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Year 2005 No. 28, February 22, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Portsmouth Respect Meeting:

Combating the Attack on Civil Liberties

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Portsmouth Respect Meeting:
Combating the Attack on Civil Liberties

For Your Information:
The Law and the War

Scott Ritter and Dahr Jamail Address US Meeting

The Plunder of Iraq's Treasures

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Portsmouth Respect Meeting:

Combating the Attack on Civil Liberties

On Wednesday, February 16, a public meeting of Respect in the Portsmouth area was held on the subject of "The Attack on Civil Liberties and the Case against ID Cards".

Criminal Defence Solicitor Matt Foot gave the leading contribution. Starting with where we are in 2005, he talked about the latest wave of draconian legislation outlined in the Queen’s speech.

The New Labour government, since it had first taken power in 1997, had lied about civil liberties as they had lied about the Iraq War, he said. Since bringing in the Human Rights Act and carrying out the Lawrence Enquiry, he pointed out that there hasn’t been one single reform that extends civil liberties. Instead, we have seen a series of various scapegoats: the youth, asylum seekers and immigrants in particular. This – coupled with the growth of the "Big Brother state", CCTV cameras everywhere, the DNA database being extended, and now ID cards.

At the time of the Lawrence report, black people were five times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. By 2002/03, this had risen to six times. The number of people from Asian backgrounds stopped and searched by police has increased by 300% since the Terrorism Act 2000 came into force and the prison population is up 24%, he quoted.

Amongst other things, he spoke about the fear that is being fostered. The legislation, currently in a state of flux, which has now moved to house arrest, relies on the argument that the terrorist threat is so serious that we just have to have it. The house arrest, as with the previous legislation, will take place without trial. The whole thing, he said, is based upon the right of the authorities; you never get to know the "evidence".

The speaker concluded by giving his opinion that we do not live in a fascist state. There are things we can do; we can have this meeting, for example, and expose their arguments. The overruling of the previous legislation allowing the detention without trial of foreign nationals probably wouldn’t have happened without the people’s movement, he said; we can stop and push them back.

Lorin Sulaiman, a 14 year-old asylum-seeker, spoke next along with two of her friends. School children in Portsmouth have recently been rallying the local community to defend Lorin, who is threatened with deportation along with her sister and mother. One night, she related, ten police raided the house where they were staying, to deport them. Lorin’s family were accused of lying about their situation and taken to a detention centre at Gatwick airport. Her mother, who suffers from multiple health problems, collapsed at the airport and was admitted to hospital.

When she was discharged, Removal Directions were again set. At this point, Lorin’s school friends mobilised students, staff, parents and members of the community, who swung into action, launching a high-profile local media campaign in support of the family. They sent a 50-page petition with 1,512 signatures to the local Labour MP and wrote letters and emails to people in parliament, the church and the press.

Lorin and her family went on hunger strike at the detention centre. At the last minute, the deportation plans were halted. Because of community’s effective campaign, the Home Office stayed the deportation and released the family from detention, pending a review of the family’s case. However, they have again been threatened with deportation. Three and a half thousand people have now signed a petition asking for the family to stay and for Lorin to be allowed to continue her education at her school in Portsmouth.

Lorin and her friends also gave their views against the introduction of ID cards.

Following the main speakers, discussion continued from the floor, to which the reporter for WDIE contributed, saying that it was very good that this discussion is happening, and commenting that it was interesting that the word fascism was being raised. Though it had been said that we do not live in fascism as such yet, it was clear that Blair’s is a government of warmongers, selling off and handing over the public assets for private profit and defending monopoly right above those of the people. So the danger of fascism is what we have to stand against, referring also to the whole period we have been placed in of an indefinite "state of national emergency", or rule by exception.

Blair, Bush and company are declaring that there is no alternative. At the same time, Respect being part of this, the people are standing up and saying that there is an alternative. Part of the attack on people’s rights is to stifle the movement for the alternative.

It is very positive of Respect that it is trying to build mechanisms to have this discussion and empower people, since a basic problem is that people have no significant part in the decision-making process. The mass demonstrations before the war flatly contradict that the government went to war anyway; Blair maintains his "conviction" that they did the right thing; the will of the leader is the will that goes.

So this widespread discussion is crucial, as part of combating the disinformation coming from the ruling circles and the media and challenging the arbitrary legislation and arbitrary actions of the government. This two-pronged attack of arbitrariness and disinformation needs to be dealt with.

Another participant had raised the issue of collective resistance to the offensive against civil rights, on which the reporter commented that the opposition needs to be as broad as possible.

Article Index

For Your Information:

The Law and the War

Leader, February 23, 2005, Guardian

With an imperfect Iraqi election now over and a difficult British one now looming, Labour is more anxious than ever to "move on" from the divisions of the war. Yet, try as it may, the Blair government cannot get the arguments about Iraq to disappear. A new book by the international lawyer Philippe Sands QC, from which we publish extracts today, shows some reasons why. Mr Sands makes fresh claims and poses new questions about one of the most controversial aspects of the decision to go to war – the attorney general's advice to ministers and service chiefs that the attack on Iraq was legal. If Mr Sands is right, the advice was even more finely balanced than has previously been acknowledged and the use to which it was put more dubious.

The attorney's legal advice was pivotal in the decision to make war. Its key assertion was that Iraq had failed to comply fully with UN resolution 1441 and was thus in material breach of its international obligations following the Gulf war. In Lord Goldsmith's opinion, Iraq's continuing failure to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction created the legal basis for war. A summary of his views was put before the cabinet on two sides of A4 and was then published as a parliamentary written answer. The following day, its claim that Iraq's material breach had "revived" the authority to use force was a crucial link in the formal war resolution on which MPs voted. During his speech, the prime minister could not have been clearer: "I have never put the justification for action as regime change," he said. "We have to act within the terms set out in resolution 1441 – that is our legal base." In other words, if the attorney general had said that the use of force was legally dubious, Britain could not have attacked Iraq.

But, according to Mr Sands, this is precisely what the attorney general did say. In his full 13-page advice to the prime minister, dated March 7 – a document that has never been published and which was not shown to the cabinet either – Lord Goldsmith apparently said that the use of force on the basis of resolution 1441 "could be found to be illegal". It would therefore be much safer to get a second UN resolution to authorise force, he advised. So concerned was the government that it put together a legal team to defend itself against international litigation. So concerned were the service chiefs that they demanded a less ambiguous statement, so that soldiers would not risk being "put through the mill", as the chief of the defence staff Lord Boyce put it. "I spent a good deal of time recently in the Balkans making sure that Milosevic was put behind bars," the head of the army Sir Michael Jackson is alleged to have said. "I have no intention of ending up in the next cell to him in the Hague." The service chiefs got what they wanted – a summary that was also given to ministers and MPs. But this summary, though issued in Lord Goldsmith's name, was the work of other hands – names in the frame include Lord Falconer, then a home office minister, and Baroness Morgan, Mr Blair's senior political adviser.

These are very serious claims about a piece of advice which caused the foreign office's deputy legal adviser to resign on the grounds that it sanctioned an unlawful use of force amounting to a "crime of aggression". They cannot be allowed to go unanswered. Three things should therefore be done. First, the government should end the speculation by publishing all drafts of Lord Goldsmith's advice. Second, the public administration select committee should call an inquiry into the advice and the use to which its various forms were put. Third, all those involved should answer for their roles in the story. It is one thing to move on. It is quite another to do so without a full public accounting for one of the murkiest and most dubious decisions ever taken by a modern British government.

Article Index

Scott Ritter and Dahr Jamail Address US Meeting

Scott Ritter, appearing with journalist Dahr Jamail on February 18, 2005, in Washington State, US, said that George W Bush has "signed off" on plans to bomb Iran in June 2005, and claimed the US manipulated the results of the January 30 elections in Iraq, reports Mark Jensen of "United for Peace of Pierce County".

The principal theme of the former UNSCOM weapons inspector’s talk was that of taking action to bring an end to the illegal war in Iraq. Scott Ritter said that plans for a June attack on Iran have been submitted to President George W Bush, and that the president has approved them. He also asserted that knowledgeable sources say US officials "cooked" the results of the recent elections in Iraq.

On Iran, Ritter said that President George W Bush has received and signed off on orders for an aerial attack on Iran planned for June 2005. Its purported goal is the destruction of Iran's alleged programme to develop nuclear weapons, but Ritter said that neo-conservatives in the administration also expected that the attack would set in motion a chain of events leading to regime change in the oil-rich nation of 70 million – a possibility Ritter regards with the greatest scepticism.

Scott Ritter also said of the January 30 elections that US authorities in Iraq had manipulated the results in order to reduce the percentage of the vote received by the United Iraqi Alliance from 56% to 48%.

Asked about the allegation, Ritter said that an official involved in the manipulation was the source, and that this would soon be reported by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist in a major metropolitan magazine – an allusion to New Yorker reporter Seymour M Hersh.

On January 17, the New Yorker posted an article by Hersh entitled "The Coming Wars". In it, the journalist claimed that for the Bush administration, "The next strategic target [is] Iran." Hersh also reported, "The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer." According to Hersh, "Defence Department civilians, under the leadership of Douglas Feith, have been working with Israeli planners and consultants to develop and refine potential nuclear, chemical-weapons, and missile targets inside Iran. . . . Strategists at the headquarters of the US Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, have been asked to revise the military's war plan, providing for a maximum ground and air invasion of Iran. . . . The hawks in the Administration believe that it will soon become clear that the Europeans' negotiated approach [to Iran] cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act."

Scott Ritter said that although the peace movement failed to stop the war in Iraq, it had a chance to stop the expansion of the war to other nations like Iran and Syria. He held up the spectre of a day when the Iraq war might be remembered as a relatively minor event that preceded an even greater conflagration.

Before Ritter spoke, Dahr Jamail had narrated a slide show on Iraq focusing on Fallujah. He showed more than a hundred vivid photographs taken in Iraq, mostly by himself. Many of them showed the horrific slaughter of civilians.

Dahr Jamail argued that US mainstream media sources are complicit in the war and help sustain support for it by deliberately downplaying the truth about the devastation and death it is causing.

Jamail was, until recently, one of the few unembedded journalists in Iraq and one of the only independent ones. His reports have gained a substantial following and are available online at http://dahrjamailiraq.com/

Article Index

The Plunder of Iraq's Treasures

By Humberto Marquez, Inter Press Service (IPS), February 17, 2005

CARACAS – One million books, 10 million documents and 14,000 archaeological artefacts have been lost in the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq – the biggest cultural disaster since the descendants of Genghis Khan destroyed Baghdad in 1258, Venezuelan writer Fernando Baez told IPS.

"US and Polish soldiers are still stealing treasures today and selling them across the borders with Jordan and Kuwait, where art merchants pay up to $57,000 for a Sumerian tablet," said Baez, who was interviewed during a brief visit to Caracas.

The expert on the destruction of libraries has helped document the devastation of cultural and religious objects in Iraq, where the ancient Mesopotamian kingdoms of Sumer, Akkad and Babylon emerged, giving it a reputation as the birthplace of civilisation.

His inventory of the destruction and his denunciations that the coalition forces are violating the Hague Convention of 1954 on the protection of cultural heritage in times of war have earned him the enmity of Washington. Baez said he was refused a visa to enter the US to take part in conferences.

In addition, he has been barred from returning to Iraq "to carry out further investigations", he added. "But it's too late, because we already have documents, footage and photos that in time will serve as evidence of the atrocities committed," said Baez, the author of The Cultural Destruction of Iraq and A Universal History of the Destruction of Books, which were published in Spanish.

IPS:  What do you accuse the United States of doing?

FB:  In first place, of violating the Hague Convention, which states that cultural property must be protected in the event of armed conflict. That is a criminally punishable offence, which is why Washington has not signed the convention, or the 1999 protocol attached to it. And perhaps it is one reason the administration of George W Bush is seeking immunity for its soldiers. But it is not only the United States; the rest of the coalition forces are also guilty.

IPS:  But according to the reports, it was Iraqi civilians and not US soldiers who looted libraries and museums.

FB:  But the US Army was criminally negligent, failing to protect libraries, museums and archaeological sites despite clear warnings from UNESCO [the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation], the UN, the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute and the former head of the US president's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property, Martin Sullivan. The Iraqis who went out to loot interpreted the negligence as a green light to act without restraint.

IPS:  So the sin committed by the US was one of omission?

FB: Not only that. There was also direct destruction and looting. In Nassiria in May 2004, a year after the formal end of hostilities, during fighting with [Shi'ite cleric] Muqtada al-Sadr's militants, 40,000 religious manuscripts were destroyed in a fire [set by the coalition forces]. And when soldiers found out that the Sumerian city of Ur [in southern Iraq] was the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, they took ancient bricks as souvenirs.

IPS:  You also accuse soldiers from other countries, besides US troops.

FB:  That's right. In late May 2004, the Italian Carabinieri were caught trying to smuggle looted cultural artefacts over the border into Kuwait. And the British Museum reported that Polish forces destroyed part of Babylon's ancient ruins, to the south of Baghdad.

IPS:  Can we suppose that these events are part of phases of the conflict that have already been left behind?

FB: No. More recently it was found that Polish troops drove heavy vehicles near the Nebuchadnezzar Palace, which dates back to the sixth century BC, and then covered large areas of the site with asphalt, doing irreparable damage. There were also attempts to gouge out bricks at the Gate of Ishtar. To that is added the collapse of ancient walls due to the continuous passage of US trucks and helicopters, and walls spray-painted with graffiti, like "I was here" or "I love Mary".

IPS: Can we expect the situation to improve with time?

FB: Another accusation that can be made against the United States is that it has created a less safe country overall, by generating the conditions for cultural destruction, which will be even worse in future years, due to the situation of legal insecurity. In the days of the looting of Baghdad, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went so far as to say that looting "isn't something that someone allows or doesn't allow. It's something that happens." Today Iraq is like a golf course for the world's terrorists, and its cultural treasures will not be safe in the future.

IPS: What impact has there been on the United States?

FB: One of its reactions was to rejoin UNESCO, which the US had withdrawn from during the era of [Ronald] Reagan [1981-1989] on the pretext that the UN agency served as "a communist front". Experts at the US State and Defence departments are trying to mitigate the damages. US military police helped Iraqi police track down the Lady of Warka, dubbed the "Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia", a 5,200-year-old marble sculpture that is one of the earliest known representations of the human face in the history of art.

IPS: How significant are the losses?

FB:  The Lady of Warka may be worth $100 or $150 million. A Sumerian cuneiform tablet or an Assyrian stele can fetch $57,000 at the border. Some Iraqis have been purchasing books at used-book markets in Baghdad to return them to the libraries. But the damage is incalculable. In the Baghdad National Library, around one million books were burnt, including early editions of Arabian Nights, mathematical treatises by Omar Khayyam, and tracts by philosophers Avicena and Averroes.

IPS:  Thousands of relics were also lost from the National Archaeological Museum.

FB:  The initial reports spoke of 170,000 objects, but 25 major artefacts as well as 14,000 less important ones actually disappeared. An amnesty for the looters led to the recovery of around 3,500, according to the US colonel who led the investigations, Matthew Bogdanos. But besides the national museum and library, the al-Awqaf library, which held over 5,000 Islamic manuscripts, university libraries and the library of Bayt al-Hikma also suffered. At least 10 million documents have been lost in Iraq altogether.

Fernando Baez has said his research into the destruction of libraries and archives was first motivated by his painful childhood memories of a flash flood that wiped away the library in his hometown, San Felix in southeastern Venezuela. He cherished the municipal library because since his parents worked, he had often been left with relatives who worked there, and spent his days reading.

His research culminated in A Universal History of the Destruction of Books, which documents the catastrophic loss of books during wars, like the Library of Alexandria, which burnt down in 48 BC, or the burning of millions of books by the Nazis.

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