Kingston Peace News - March 2011

21 January – Excommunication Day

Andy Coulson, the Downing Street, now ex-communications officer, decided 21st January was ideal to bury news of his long-awaited resignation, over suspicions of intercepting other people’s communications. But this communications strategy hilariously backfired, eclipsing the main story of Tony Blair, the ‘great communicator’, and rescuing him from media scrutiny during his return to the Chilcot Inquiry. Cohorts of reporters abandoned Blair for Downing St and Andy’s misconceived PR stunt. Good luck with the job search Andy!

We, including Italian protesters claiming a pre-war plan to allow Saddam to go into exile had been deliberately scuppered, lined up with banners and chants to communicate our disapproval, missing our quarry who slunk in before dawn, and never ruffling the sedate and decorous exchanges inside. Sometimes outnumbered by police and journalists we afterwards had to work hard to learn what had happened, helped by the release of such gems of communication as:

10 Downing Street, early/2002
    Dearest Georgie,
        Love and kisses, your constant admirer, Tony

Transparency was surely never so opaque yet we did learn that “we” … sorry, did he say “we”? Yes, according to Tony, if Saddam Hussein had to be removed by decimating Iraq, wholesale slaughter and blighting the lives and futures of millions of Muslims for generations – otherwise known as ‘pre-emptive military action’ – “we” were “up for it”; whoever “we” were.

Legality? Well; apparently regime change is supposed not to be a cause for war – but of course these were exceptional times since some Egyptian students had demolished the World Trade Centre whilst US security was napping. Never mind the evidence and Hans Blix. Never mind the French pledge, (otherwise known as “an unreasonable veto” that should be ignored,) to support a UN resolution authorising military action if illegal weaponry were found – never mind all that; just think what might have happened if …. and if …. and if … and if … and if … and if nuclear … and if Saddam were still in power ... and if Tony were still in power he would certainly now go after those pesky Iranians!

Whilst supposedly seeking the second UN resolution he ignored advice that it was essential and told everyone it was not, because he was sure Peter (Lord Goldsmith) would change his mind, and anyway he could say what he liked because he was making a political point. And was the Cabinet kept informed about commitments to invade Iraq (if all else failed)? Of course it was. Except between April and September 2002 whilst preparations for war were being made. But of course it “defies common sense” the Cabinet didn’t know because they read the papers. Anoraks like myself will also know that final 11th hour legal advice never said the Iraq war was legal, it merely annunciated grounds on which it might be argued it could be, if challenged – but no one could seriously spare time to bother with such niceties, particularly not a Cabinet full of ex-lawyers!

In a final back-hander to the Chilcot panel he said that last time when asked if he had regrets he believed they meant about the removal of Saddam. Of course he was sorry for death and hardship, he just misunderstood the question. Unfortunately with difficult decisions disadvantages have to be weighed against benefits, and immeasurable benefits there had certainly been.

But surely Saddam wasn’t supposed to be the problem, it was Iraq’s weapons? He was invited to stay if he disposed of weapons – but the weapons didn’t exist – but the plan from April 2002 was to get rid of Saddam, though that wasn’t admitted – and regime change is illegal so the war was legal after all - I think, I think, I write, I don’t understand, I do not understand - does anyone? Thank you Andy Coulson!

This might all seem hilariously funny if you’re not an Iraqi or wounded or bereaved.

Noel Hamel

All the war’s a stage!

The Pentagon asked a small north London theatre to perform last month a series of plays to help US army officers ‘understand’ Afghanistan and its history. Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre has been asked to perform The Great Game, a series of plays, interspersed with extracts of interviews, covering 150 years of Afghan history. The idea came from General Sir David Richards, head of Britain’s armed forces, who had previously commanded the ‘international security force’ in Afghanistan. He is quoted in The Guardian saying: “This series of plays – if I had seen it before I had deployed myself in 2005 for the first time – would have made me a much better commander.” A US military spokesman commented: “It could serve as a learning tool for anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of Afghanistan.”

Worms to become the next super weapon?

Nato is becoming very interested in cyber warfare it seems with conferences starting to pop-up discussing how to protect against enemy attacks designed to disable not only early warning and military command and control systems but also civilian infrastructure including power stations and water treatment plants.

But one actual example of what is already feasible comes from Israel involving the computer ‘worm’ that goes by the name of Stuxnet. According to the New York Times, this new ‘weapon’ has been fashioned at the Dimona complex in the Negev desert where Israel’s never-acknowledged (accept by Mordechai Vanunu) nuclear arms programme is carried on.

Over the past two years, intelligence and military experts say, Dimona has become the testing ground for a joint Israeli-American effort to undermine Iran’s plans to make its own Bomb – if indeed that it what Tehran is attempting to do.

Dimona is said to contain centrifuges identical to those in Iran’s Natanz complex where Iranian scientists are working to enrich uranium. It is reported that Dimona used its own facility to test the effectiveness of Stuxnet, a destructive computer worm that, say unconfirmed reports, appears to have wiped out roughly one fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, helping to delay, but not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.

“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines. The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out,” a US ‘expert on nuclear intelligence’ is quoted as saying. Although US and Israeli officials are remaining tight-lipped, there are clues suggesting that the computer worm or virus was designed as an American-Israeli project specifically to damage Iranian intentions.

Both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the retiring chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, have announced that Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts have been set back by several years, claiming this was achieved by American-led sanctions, although Mr Dagan said that Iran had run into technological difficulties.

It appears that in 2008 the German company Siemens co-operated with one of the US’s major national laboratories to identify the vulnerability of computer controllers that the company sells to industrial machinery operators around the world, including Iran. The worm, which has now been developed, appears to have two components. One was designed to send Iran’s centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. The other is infinitely more cunning. The computer programme records what normal operations at the nuclear plant look like then plays these back to plant operators while the centrifuges are spinning out of control to fool the operators that everything is working normally while in fact the machinery is tearing itself apart.

It is believed that these attacks were not wholly successful and although some parts of Iran’s processes ground to a halt, others survived. It is unknown whether the attacks are over or whether the worm still has instructions embedded in it to cause more problems in the future.

Although it is arguable that attacking Iran’s nuclear installations in this manner is preferable to the US and Israeli penchant for bombing them or launching cruise missiles against them the fact remains that in the world or cyber warfare, sending a computer worm can still be construed as a hostile act, if not an act of war. Nato meanwhile is apparently in conversation with the Russians to see if its possible to draw up a sort of cyber Geneva Convention to determine which facilities should not be targeted in the event of future hostilities.

Phillip Cooper

Peaceful lunchtimes for New Year

People wishing to start 2011 on a peaceful note headed for Kingston Parish Church on Thursday lunchtimes in January and early February.

A short series of discussions on the subject of peace was hosted by Rector of Kingston, the Rev’d Jonathan Wilkes and Kingston Peace Council/CND.

The discussions, which attracted several dozen people, included the theory of just war in the 21st century and whether the possession of nuclear weapons and the theory of deterrence were justified. Speakers included the Rt Revd and Rt Hon Lord Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, and Jim McCluskey of Kingston Peace Council/CND.

Talking rubbish with Kingston Council (in the interests of Middle East peace)

The South London Waste Partnership is a joint venture between four local authorities seeking a more environmentally sound method to dispose of refuse. Kingston, Sutton, Merton and Croydon are to sign a 35-year, multi-million pound contract this year and are in the critical last months of the procurement process to find a suitable contractor. Veolia, the contractor widely known for refuse disposal, street cleaning and other environmental tasks, is a strong contender in competition with two other shortlisted contractors.

Veolia is a global conglomerate of around 30 companies world-wide operating under the French parent company. No one is prejudiced against Veolia but there are issues about work contracted by Veolia (Israel) which is helping build the physical infrastructure of the ruthless, brutal and illegal Israeli colonization of the Occupied Palestinian West Bank.

Tramway links settlements

Veolia is a partner in a scheme building a tramway in the Palestinian West Bank that links illegal Israeli settlements to Jerusalem, provides bus transportation for Israeli-only settlers via its subsidiary Connex and operates a refuse disposal and landfill site in the Jordan Valley servicing illegal settlements. Our representations to Council prompted Veolia (GB) to defend the illegal actions of Veolia (Israel) saying the contracts with the Israeli Occupation were entered into in good faith. They sidestep our assertions that they are illegal and amount to gross misconduct and breaches of the law – we quoted international law that supports our claim. Under EU fair competition law Councils should not entertain contractors guilty of gross misconduct. Councils express doubts about the liability of Veolia (GB) for any responsibility for the activities of Veolia (Israel).

A small delegation of local organisations, council tax-payers and Baroness Jenny Tonge spoke to Kingston Council Leader Derek Osbourne and the officer concerned on 25 January. We were well received and advised that we should put our points to a meeting of the representatives from the group of four Councils in Merton on 17 February. At the time of going to press campaigning groups from the four areas were preparing a submission in anticipation of an invitation to speak being confirmed.

Kingston Peace Council, PSC and various justice and peace groups are involved and we are very grateful to Kingston Council for receiving us, hearing us out and suggesting a way forward. The illegal occupation and settlement of the Palestinian West Bank continues.

Under the colonization policy Israel now denies Palestinian access to approaching 50% of the Palestinian West Bank Territory defined by the 1967 border that Israel ignores.

Noel Hamel

Starting all over again

The new START Treaty limiting the number of atomic warheads the US and Russia are allowed to possess, has come into effect. It replaces the 1991 START Treaty which expired in December 2009. The new treaty which, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, will enhance international stability, still permits each side to have 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads! Meanwhile the Institute for Law and Peace is trying to get countries who seriously want to rid the world of nuclear weapons together to debate the issue, following its earlier success on banning landmines and cluster munitions.

Sixty years ago, The Guardian carried a letter from the publisher Victor Gollancz calling for people to join him in an urgent campaign against world poverty and militarism. Britain was fighting an unwinnable war in Asia, the Korean War, and Gollancz asked all who agreed with his call for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict to send him a postcard marked with the single word ‘yes’. Within a month 10,000 people had responded, and War on Want was born.

Now, Trade Union leaders, politicians, lawyers, and human rights campaigners have joined War on Want in calling on the UK government to end the war in Afghanistan.

War on Want’s new campaign wants as many people as possible to say YES to increase the pressure on the British government to act.

Say YES to an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan and a negotiated settlement which guarantees self-determination, security and human rights for the Afghan people.

Every name added to this campaign will be presented to the British government as a sign of people’s opposition to the war.

The call comes as War on Want launches a new report The Great Game: The reality of Britain’s War in Afghanistan. The report details the terrible price the Afghan people are paying for the ongoing occupation of their country.

US and British forces are engaged in a dirty war in Afghanistan, using aerial bombing, drone attacks, torture prisons and corporate mercenaries against the Afghan people. Development aid is being abused in order to pursue military goals and to privatise the Afghan economy.

Say YES to end the war.

John Hilary, Executive Director, War on Want

PS. Ken Loach, Tony Benn, Caroline Lucas MP and 2000 others have said YES. Join them by adding your name. For more information, and to sign YES go to

Automated warfare

“Our concern is with PlayStation warfare where the distance between operator and target lowers the threshold for launching an attack. “

Oxford’s Fellowship of Reconciliation

“The US is, at an alarming rate, moving into robotic warfare, a mission creep that could lead us into perpetual war.”

Philip Alston, UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur.

Droning on

The UK forces in Afghanistan operate five unmanned aircraft or drones each armed with four Hellfire rockets and two laser-guided bombs. The Reaper unmanned aircraft are ‘piloted’ by RAF personnel 8,000 miles away in a US Air Force base in Nevada. Noel Sharkey, professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at Sheffield University, has said that there are credible estimates that one in three casualties from drone attacks is a civilian. His principle concern, he recently told the Royal Society, was the development of so-called ‘autonomous targeting’ where drones are able to lock automatically onto what their onboard computers identify as being the enemy.


Under the headline ‘Cracks appear in coalition over Trident replacement’ The Guardian reported (February 15) that senior officials have not drawn up assessments for ministers about alternatives for replacing the Trident submarines. At the centre of the “dispute”, says the newspaper, is whether the UK should persist with a continuous-at-sea deterrent (CASD). Conservative Defence Secretary Liam Fox is insisting that the Trident fleet must be replaced with a like for like system. Meanwhile, Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat Armed Forces Minister, has openly challenged Fox’s assumptions. Commenting on the lack of assessments on alternatives he is quoted as saying: “Alternatives didn’t seem to have been given detailed or objective assessments. The debate has been very much yes or no to this simple notion of how a credible deterrent can be provided.”

Although the government has officially deferred a decision to replace Trident until after the next general election Fox believes that such a decision would only consider the number of submarines needed for a continuous-at-sea arrangement.

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.