No Gibbet - Just a Public Platform
The drama, for that's what it was, began for me at 4:30. "Be there at 7am", and I was. Police and contractors worked through the night erecting double barricades, bolted together, to contain us rowdies. At 7:10 the StopWar 'management' turned up but could do little without a supporting cast. Tony Blair slunk in unnoticed at 7:30, probably through the sewers. I thought I saw Sir John Chilcot making a surreptitious entrance at 6:55. For hours we milled around in a 'pen' by Methodist Central Hall, site of the very first United Nations Session. We were almost outnumbered by press and by journalism students sniffing for stories. Westminster School students joined in between lessons. Kingston's MPs popped over to lend support. Numbers came and went through the day as people arrived, as we slunk away for coffee and a thaw, and as we assembled for speeches and readings of the dead. These were genuinely moving and reminded us why we were standing in the rain and the cold. There were sessions with drums and the megaphone. "Blair Lied; Thousands Died!" - "millions you mean!" "Tony Blair; War Criminal!" "Tony Blair; to the Hague!" Our noise must have been an irritant though it couldn't penetrate the shrine of the 'politeness inquisition'. Catering staff peered down from Conference Centre windows. We felt outnumbered by Police, with numberless reinforcements in vans round the corner. We massed at possible escape routes from 4:30. At 6:30 the police stood down, revealing our quarry had scarpered.
Lunch time reports of the proceedings were disappointing. Teflon Tony, the perennial car salesman, was at it again. Awkward questions? Simple. Sidestep or bat them away with deferential and insincere apologies for fallibilities and frailties - nothing mendacious or deliberately devious you understand. At times Tony shamelessly deviated, using his audience as yet another row of torpid stool-pigeons, expounding grandiose theories of world-order. Cognoscenti know Tony peppered his little 'histories and entertainments' with untruths, lies and damned lies. Classified documents available on the internet, but not to Chilcot, show Tony planned regime change in 2002. The Russians and French scuppered the UN second resolution; except they didn't. They just planned to await the Blix inspection outcome. The 45 minute biological weapons' threat was a myth, but please excuse it as Tony hadn't been paying close attention to what the intelligence actually said. And when Tony told the world there were WMDs "beyond doubt" he said it because he "believed it, beyond doubt". Inconvenient then that the intelligence report, which Tony linked the claim with, didn't say so at all. In future Tony would (of course) keep politics and intelligence separate. Just 'innocent mistakes' anyone could make. But of course the overridingly important thing was to re-order the world. Imagine if Tony hadn't got rid of Saddam Hussein, if Saddam was still Iraqi leader, if he joined forces with Al Qa'ida, and if they developed nuclear weapons ..... Imagine if Iran developed nuclear weapons too and if they used them on one another .... No; Tony hadn't done anything wrong. There was nothing to apologise for. Iraq was not a humanitarian disaster. We need to focus on Iran now and other places ..... Sorry but Tony isn't sorry. Anything that went wrong was the fault of others, and actually Tony is sorry; sorry that everyone doesn't agree with him.
The Chilcot 'interrogators' never laid a glove on him. They fired only cottonwool balls. But why, what did they have to loose? Maybe their backgrounds hold some clues. One has previous form on the Butler 'review' and associations with security services. Another wrote speeches for Blair. Another believes Blair ranks with Roosevelt and Churchill. One is heavily into Anglo- American relations with Jeremy Greenstock, ambassador to the UN in 2003, and another tried to win Russian support for the second UN resolution and is senior adviser to JPMorgan Chase, which swallowed huge chunks of Iraqi banking and is Blair's main paymaster at £2.5 million pa. Funny old world!
Straw man feels the chill at Chilcot
by Phillip Cooper
Despite the soporific politeness of the Chilcot enquiry, it still has its moments, although they can be a long time in arriving. The out-and-out star to date has undoubtedly been Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office from 2001 to 2003 and the only senior official to resign in disgust at the Government's decision to go to war in spite of legal opinions (from the FCO) to the contrary. Her quiet and restrained demolition of the Government's (and attorney general Lord Goldsmith's) tortuous reasoning that the war was legal and justified were capped by the put-down of all put-downs. When Sir John Chilcot asked in relation to her boss (Jack Straw) disagreeing with her legal advice "Did it make any difference that he himself is a qualified lawyer?" she responded "He is not an international lawyer'" Ouch!
Elizabeth: 1, Jack: Nil.
Subsequently it was the turn of committee member Sir Roderic Lyne. Despite sounding like a character from Jeeves and Wooster , Sir Roderic, who was Our Man in Moscow at the time of the Iraq war, can prove to be a canny and relentless interrogator. During Jack Straw's second appearance before the inquiry the question of the so-called French veto of the second UN resolution was picked over. To Straw's clear discomfort Sir Roderic demolished the claim that there was a consensus in the Security Council that was only obstructed by France. Only four members were in support of a second resolution justifying force and there was opposition not only from France but also Chile and Mexico with three African countries undecided, said Sir Roderic. He quizzed Straw on this: "In the House of Commons on 17 March you said we had been close to achieving consensus. One country then assured that the Security Council could not act. Now, that's a bit unfair to the French given that we had not managed to get Chile and Mexico on board ... It is not fair to say that one country ensured that the Security Council could not act when we only had four votes in the bag."
Sir Roderic: 1, Jack: Nil. Jack loses 2:Nil on aggregate.
It was a shame that Sir Roderic's powers of cross-examination seemed to desert him in the face of Blair's assertion to the inquiry that "September 11th changed everything" when, of course, Al-Quaida had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein's regime, other than a lethal hatred of it, second only to their hatred or America.
What has our own Church Times got in common with Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz? In the latter, columnist Schlomo Avineri writes about the Chilcott Inquiry and lionises Tony Blair in an article entitled 'This is a just War.' Then look at Canon Alan Billings, writing in the January 29th edition of the Church Times: "This always was a just war," he says before embarking on an attempt to discredit the arguments for not going to war. Of the suggestion by opponents of the war that it would be protracted and bloody he makes the following assertion: "It was short and casualties were few. Though the unforeseen aftermath was bloody." Well that's alright then, the 'unforseen' aftermath clearly doesn't count because it's only really Iraqi civilians who make up most of the casualties. Short of facts for your next sermon, Canon Billings, then why not have a look at the Iraq Body Count website www.iraqbodycount.org. Between 95,000 and 105,000 deaths, and counting ...
To recapitulate, the 30-year US involvement in Vietnam (technically an involvement: war was never declared) is universally regarded today as a terrible mistake. It ended in defeat, after an estimated 500,000 Vietnamese killed (some estimates are double); 58,000 US soldiers, many of them conscripts, dead and 300,000 wounded physically (many more mentally, resulting in a high post-war suicide rate); the savage blow to US prestige, just when, after the second world war, its standing was perhaps at its highest ever (along with Vietnam, the US also lost its virtue); the damage to the environment with the destruction of villages and infrastructure, the use of poisonous defoliants; the use of napalm on villages, the massive high-level bombing, the massacres of civilians carried out by US soldiers, of which My Lai is the most notorious example; all of this was watched by a horrified world. US prestige has never recovered. Nor has its economy. The £150 billion spent, when corrected for inflation, is in the same ballpark as the $3 trillion estimate for the Iraq war, and had a predictable effect on the economy with an increase in national debt and a weakened dollar. All five US presidents involved had chances to withdraw their country from the escalating war in Vietnam.
If Roosevelt, who was strongly opposed to French recolonisation of Vietnam, had lived another two years, the story of Vietnam would have been very different. On such quirks of fate does history depend.
Harry Truman, a man not usually associated in the public mind with the Vietnam tragedy, comes out badly. He initiated the problem. It was Truman who reversed Roosevelt's strongly expressed aversion to permitting the French to recolonise Vietnam after the war. He reversed U S policy and actively aided the French, even providing the initial transport in U S ships, and millions of dollars military aid to help the French re-establish their grip on their former colony. He was motivated by Cold War thinking that had already become established. President de Gaulle's blackmailing threats (that France might be taken over by the communists without de Gaulle's strong hand) were not resisted, and the French control and exploitation of Vietnam was put forward as a bulwark against the tide of communism. Had Roosevelt lived a little longer, the whole tragedy would probably have been averted. Either the French would have gone ahead without US backing, and been thrown out more quickly than happened with US backing, or else they would not have embarked upon the venture at all.
It ought also to be emphasized that at no time was the US Congress involved in any of the decisions on Vietnam, until late in the Johnson presidency, when it was only then to be coerced, some say tricked, into passing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which officially handed over all power to the Commander in Chief, Johnson.
It is also tragic that military means were adopted. In the great confrontation between democracy and communism, the power of the good example would surely have been more powerful than guns. Freedom is an obvious good, toward which oppressed people everywhere strive. The US did not have the courage of its expressed convictions, but instead resorted to military force. Rather than thinking about dominoes, they should have remembered Berlin in the days when it was shared by the occupying powers, where the traffic was all one way. It was the tide of citizens pouring over the border to the West that forced the East Germans to build the wall. In Vietnam the massacres on the ground and from the air by the occupying forces had the effect of stiffening resolve, and giving to the US the role of oppressor.
The reduction of Congress to mere observers demonstrated an obvious deficit of US democracy. Instead of a transparent process of democratic decision-making, a succession of presidents involved their country slyly in a conflict that was a war in all but name. In modern days the error has been repeated, signifying a flaw in the system. Iraq, Afghanistan were forced upon the American people and the world by individuals with enormous power.
In this short summary of the war in Vietnam I have largely relied upon the excellent analysis of historian Barbara Tuchman, whose classic The March of Folly was first published in 1984, and is still readily available today (try Amazon.com).
Next month: Remedies: Learning from Vietnam
|Latchmere House today: Picture by Matthew Rees|
The Obama White House has expressed its 'deep disappointment' that the British Appeal Court revealed the UK government's and MI5's complicity in the torture of Ethiopian-born Binyam Mohamed. Mr Mohamed was detained in Pakistan in 2002 at the behest of the CIA where he was asked questions which could only have been passed to his interrogators by British security sources. He was later moved to Guantanamo Bay and finally released without charge a year ago.
The supporters of torture and violence against such detainees justify it by saying that it produces high quality intelligence with which to fight terrorism. But was this always the view?
Latchmere House, on Ham Common, near Richmond Park, is known to most of us in the Kingston and Richmond area as a sometime young offenders' institution and now a low-security prison. But its former wartime role is worth recalling in the light of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and 'extraordinary rendition.'
During World War Two, Latchmere House was known simply as Camp 020. Its function was straightforward. German spies were taken there to be interrogated, 'broken' and where possible, turned into double agents for the Allies.
Its success in this endeavour is said to be unprecedented in the history of warfare. The Security Services are believed to have detected every Nazi spy who arrived in Britain and many were 'turned' into double agents. Some also provided valuable intelligence for the Bletchley Park codebreakers.
How did they do it? Waterboarding, electric shock, beatings? Not according to papers now available through the National Archives. The prison commandant was Lt Col Robin Stephens, nicknamed 'Tin Eye' after his thick-rimmed monocle. A formidable interrogator, Stephens was nonetheless adamant that physical violence was forbidden. Security Service records, written on the assumption that they would never be declassified, show that Stephens took a hard line against the use of violence.
"Violence is taboo," he wrote. "for not only does it provide answers to please but it lowers the standard of information." Camp 020's success Stephens put down to the non-violent regime. "Never strike a man," he stipulated. "In the first place it is an act of cowardice. In the second place it is not intelligent. A prisoner will lie to avoid further punishment." In one case a War Office interrogator who struck a prisoner was expelled from the Camp, never to be allowed to return. Stephens wrote: "Apart from the moral aspect of the whole thing, I am quite convinced that these Gestapo methods do not pay in the long run."
Perhaps, today's British Security Services have something to learn from 'Tin Eye's' methods, and his morality.
Footnote: There is a rumour, that I have yet to substantiate, that Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, was held at Camp 020 briefly. PC
The Ministry of Justice claims there are only 2,500 serving prisoners who are former military personnel. The National Association of Probation Officers disagrees. Their 2009 research shows that 8,500 ex-service personnel are in prison - 10% of the total prison population - out of around 20,000 in the criminal justice system. For more information go to: www.vetsinprison.org
City University runs investigative journalism courses supported by a season of films available to the public. I saw Afghanistan: On the Dollar Trail by Frenchman, Paul Moreira. Talk of Afghan corruption doesn't prepare you for the reality shock.
We know the bad guys as "Taliban" - students in English; Islamic zealots to everyone. They studied Wahabism imported by the Saudis, Pakistan, USA, UK, allies ... Except in 2010 facts belie this cliché. Fanatics some may be but most are just opposed to western armies' presence. Some are drugs profiteers, others are glad of wages greater than regular Afghan soldiers and police. Some are intimidated by threats to family and others see a contest between Tajiks and Pashtuns as reason for fighting. 80% of the "Taliban's" victims are civilians. But we are supposedly on the side of the angels. When the Bush-Yanks went in they put money in outstretched hands; hands of drugs barons, warlords, Tajiks who opposed the "Taliban" Pashtuns, misogynists, embezzlers, fraudsters, swindlers, henchmen, opportunistic gold-diggers, autocrats ... Many are in power, some are the government. British forces are fighting and dying for them.
Paul Moreira's film begins at the June 2008 international Paris meeting of the great and the good: Condi Rice, Gordon, Sarkozy, Merkel, innumerable others ... A glossy report extolled the virtues of $millions of pledged aid for reconstruction, schools, hospitals, roads, water ... (Remember Blair's pledges to cure the sick, educate the illiterate, house the homeless, feed the starving ...?) Now talk is of electoral fraud and corruption and Malalai Joya tours the world denouncing Afghanistan's corrupt government which simply disconnected her microphone and chucked her out - a democratic vote by members of parliament! Meanwhile Hamid Karzai repeatedly pledges abolition of corruption. Paul's mission was to investigate the "facts on the ground". Revelations defied imagination. Schools are functioning in Kabul; functioning in the playgrounds and ruins, without furniture, under plastic sheeting, in the open-air in the snow and rain, overcrowded and scheduled in three shifts/day to accommodate everyone. 680 schools were pledged but USaid in Kabul couldn't find one after 10 day's 'research'. They sent Paul to the flagship school where a magnificent wall and hoarding, complete with idyllic school illustration, was erected in 2008. The classes were outside, behind the hoarding, some under sheeting or in shacks. Other schools have space for building but it is stolen by government officials. Some projects had gone ahead. A hospital was extended and modernized but is literally falling apart and the 'builder' has vanished. So much was spent on UN administration fees, NGO contractors, imported tiles, steel, sanitary ware, etc, that less than half the budget was left for the builder. Maybe he had to pay bribes to get the contract, protection money perhaps; perhaps his motivation was 'get-rich-quick'. The result was so shoddy it is crumbling, insanitary, partly unusable, and prone to leaks and flooding, has unsafe wiring, operating theatres unusable, tiles falling from walls, ceilings, floors, you name it. There is one state-of-the-art hospital built by foreign contractors using expensive imported materials and equipment. It has clean, bright wards and the equipment is the latest, cutting-edge, high-tech, high-spec available. Few can afford to use it, except the foreigners with which Kabul is awash; MPs, government officials, cronies, 'newsmen', fawning hangers-on ...
Kabul is increasingly overcrowded with families in shacks, tents, ruins, hovels; without heat and water and the streets are pools of mud and water. Some have lived here generations; others have fled war in the countryside. Essentials like food are expensive. Malnutrition is an increasing problem. Unemployment is high. Burkas are everywhere.
But business is booming in the construction of 'palaces', some costing $1million, with sumptuous marble halls, multiple bed and bathrooms, exclusive sanitary ware and fitted kitchens, polychrome exterior cladding, high security walls and permanent guards with Kalashnikovs. There is a booming market in expensive 4X4s and other imported luxury vehicles which are frequently to be seen around the palaces, often with a guard riding 'shotgun' beside the driver. The land for this building is 'obtained' by evicting the poor with force and threats. The land is sold to government officials, cronies, 'newsmen', fawning hangers-on ... for a pittance. The grandiose buildings sprout like mushrooms, courtesy of rerouted foreign aid. The Human Rights Commission protests to no avail. The Anti-Corruption Commission is closed down suddenly. It was headed by a man with past US convictions for drug trafficking. There are 2500 NGOs in Afghanistan but only 400 are thought to be straight. USaid builds roads at vast expense in record time using US contractors and security, widely thought to be fiddling their 'expenses', in places where US military transportation is the priority. Western consultancies and security swallow huge chunks of the 'aid' budget.
One genuinely good guy MP is a trained lawyer, a Hazara and therefore considered racially inferior, he researches corruption and speaks out but, you guessed it, his mike' is disconnected and, by 'democratic' vote of parliament, he is expelled. By chance Paul was at a decrepit orphanage as a convoy of US vehicles arrived unexpectedly. A middle-aged US official got out of the 4x4 and opened the following truck. Out spilled blankets and clothes, food and notebooks. They were 'contraband', circumventing the official channels. "I do this for the children. If I didn't do this they would get nothing. As a Christian I have to do this; it is only right."
The fanatical Taliban did resort to drug trafficking to fund their campaign against the Northern Alliance before 2001 but corruption on the scale now blatantly and callously practiced was then unknown. Such corruption and hard-hearted indifference to the plight of the poor and destitute is certainly the best imaginable recruiting sergeant for the current 'Taliban' insurgency.
Do tell us again, Gordon Brown, just why our troops are fighting in Afghanistan and what 'victory' will look like. After eight years your achievements are underwhelming yet you seem determined to pursue more of the same in lock-step with the Hamid Karzai government and the US. If you could explain to the millions of Afghan families, whose country you are fighting over, what benefits you are bringing for their future well-being what would you say? And if the "streets of London [are to be made] safer" don't Afghans have to have some prospect of a better future?
As part of Kingston Borough's annual festival of ideas, KPC/CND has this year organised the following talk and discussion to be held on Thursday 11 March, 7.30pm at C-SCAIPE, Kingston University, Penrhyn Road, Kingston. Dr David Lowry will be the speaker and our own expert, Jim McCluskey, will contribute and help to lead the discussion. Please publicise this important event as widely as possible.
Nuclear power is increasingly being seen by the media and some politicians, and even by some who would previously have considered it unacceptable, as one of the most important contributors in the desperate effort to reduce carbon emissions. Our Government is promoting the building of new nuclear power stations and apparently believes this is the right policy in the fight against climate change. But is it safe, now and for future generations, and can human error ever be eliminated? Can nuclear waste be effectively managed? Why, if demonstrable alternatives exist, would we want to generate nuclear electricity and create as an unavoidable by-product the prime nuclear and nuclear security, explosive material - Plutonium?
Is it possible to control nuclear fuel supplies and processes so that they cannot be diverted to weapons production?
Dr David Lowry (pictured) is an independent environmental policy and research consultant, based in Stoneleigh in Surrey. He specialises in nuclear policy, particularly radioactive waste He has written widely on these subjects for thirty years, most recently two chapters in a book on nuclear policy in the UK, 'Nuclear or Not?' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, paperback edition)
Members of Kingston Peace Council/CND were among the estimated 800-plus people who blockaded the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment on February 15th. Every gate was closed by the blockaders and 26 arrests were reported. The demonstration was calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons and the scrapping of Trident in particular. The blockade's main purpose was to halt construction of the new multi-million pound research facility that will help develop a new generation of nuclear warheads. The facility has just been given planning permission by West Berkshire Council despite a spate of objections. Among those at the blockade were Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams from the USA and Mairead Corrigan-Maguire from Belfast. Among a number of bishops who took part was Peter Price, now bishop of Bath & Wells, but formerly bishop of Kingston. SEE www.tridentploughshares.org for more on the blockade. and facts on Trident.
Newsletter Editor for this issue was Phil Cooper.
Disclaimer: It is the nature of a newsletter like KPN that views cannot be sought on everything that appears herein, so views expressed are almost never the agreed opinion of the group.