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Year 2005 No. 118, October 10, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Jack Straw Attempts to Defend the Indefensible

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Jack Straw Attempts to Defend the Indefensible

The Gap between “Democracy” and Reality in Iraq

The Myth of Iraqi "Democracy" and British Covert Operations in Basra

Sinister Events in a Cynical War

Newspaper Reports on Britain in Iraq

Protest is Criminalised and the Huffers and Puffers Say Nothing

Photographers Stage Walk-Out at Labour Party Conference

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Jack Straw Attempts to Defend the Indefensible

On Wednesday, September 28, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, delivered a major speech on foreign policy to the Labour Party conference in Brighton, entitled “We are in Iraq to bring about democracy”. It is very much a sign of the times that even at this highly staged-managed conference it was necessary to use the draconian powers of the Terrorism Act to silence and remove an eighty-two-year-old lifelong Labour Party member who accused Jack Straw of talking nonsense. 

            The key theme of Jack Straw’s speech was that the government’s military intervention in Iraq and elsewhere in the world has been necessary in order to protect lives and spread “democracy”. He argued that before 1997, British and other governments had been passive when tragic events had taken place, such as those in Bosnia and Rwanda. Labour governments on the other hand, Jack Straw argued, took decisive military action to save lives in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. Furthermore, according to the Foreign Secretary, Britain invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq to remove “unspeakable” governments and to bring democracy. This is what he referred to as “an active and engaged foreign policy”.  

            But the fact is that this “active and engaged foreign policy” has greatly contributed to instability and the loss of life in many parts of the world, not least Afghanistan and Iraq. In Iraq, the Anglo-American forces have been responsible for thousands of deaths, the destruction of major cities and the fomenting of civil war. Although Jack Straw did his best to gloss over recent events in Basra, these point to the involvement of British military forces in the most heinous crimes and acts of terrorism. In other parts of the world too, Labour governments have conducted the most criminal of activities. Jack Straw may wring his hands about the arms trade and boast of Britain’s role in Sierra Leone, but was it not his government that conspired to illegally import arms into that country, flagrantly breaching UN sanctions and exacerbating the eleven-year long armed conflict? And what is the government’s role in Sierra Leone today? Much of its activity appears to be using “aid” to facilitate the privatisation of the major utilities, including water, in one of the world’s poorest countries, where less than one third of the population have access to clean water.

            Jack Straw appeared to have forgotten that by invading sovereign countries Labour governments acted illegally under international law; have often acted without any UN mandate, and that at other times have openly breached UN resolutions and sanctions. For the Labour government the UN is either a means to further aggression and intervention or an inconvenience to be “reformed” or ignored. Therefore Jack Straw preferred to dwell on the fact that at the recent UN summit there had been agreement that all states had a collective “responsibility to protect” all populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this agreement Jack Straw and the Labour government see a justification for further military intervention and aggression.

            Elsewhere the Foreign Secretary’s speech highlighted the fact that the Labour government continues to extend its tentacles all over the world. It is ready to welcome Turkey in the EU, not least as a means of launching further attacks on the Muslim world. It continues to threaten and bully Iran, and is attempting to create a dependent Palestinian state. While in Africa, it acts as if it were still a colonial power in former colonies such as Sudan, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe and in other areas too.

            Jack Straw arrogantly asserted that peace and security not only of Britain but of the whole world rested on the values of the Labour Party. But the New Labour government has brought neither peace nor security to Britain or the rest of the world. Rather it has brought death and destruction, raised global instability and state terrorism to new levels, as it safeguards the global interests and profits of the big monopolies and financial institutions.

Article Index

The Gap between “Democracy” and Reality in Iraq

From the David Nicholls Memorial Lecture given by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, Published: 03 October 2005

The Iraq War was fought for the sake of freedom and democracy, so we are insistently told. And just as insistently, the news from Iraq tells us that, whatever else may have resulted from that ill-fated enterprise, the present situation is not exactly "freedom and democracy" in the sense that the war's apologists probably had in mind. "Democracy" is a word that we take to mean a certain sort of political accountability: government is made to answer to the will of the people, regularly and routinely, so that particular interest groups cannot cling unchallenged to power.

            But the tormenting problems over the shaping of an Iraqi constitution have brought to light very clearly some of the central tensions in understanding democracy. What if the popular will is overwhelmingly in favour of a form of government that does not correspond to our ordinary liberal assumptions? And what is to be done to secure the rights and liberties of minorities in a context of significant religious or ethnic diversity, where a majority vote may be the accurate representation not of arguments won but of a demographic advantage?

            Most of us in the West would probably want to argue that democracy needs to be more than the guarantee that majorities have their way. This means that we have to introduce into our discussion the idea of "lawful" democracy, democratic institutions that earn credibility not just by corresponding to "popular will" but by placing themselves under law.

            As we have seen in Iraq in recent months, the setting-up of representative institutions alone fails to solve anything so long as there is no confidence that a system exists to secure the social environment and to act as a disinterested broker between communities.

            The tragedy of Iraq in the past two years should serve to make us more attentive, please God, to the gap between slogans about democratisation and the hard work needed to secure a reliable material environment for civil society to mature, and thus for a fully lawful state apparatus to be shaped.

Article Index

The Myth of Iraqi "Democracy" and British Covert Operations in Basra

By Michael C Feltham*, October 1, 2005

For some time, now, Messrs Bush and Blair and their coterie of sycophantic neophytes, have burbled on about the "new democracy" in Iraq having been successfully established – a laughable proposition were it not such a deadly one.

            If "democracy" (so-called) for Iraq were anywhere on the Anglo-American agenda, what on earth were two SAS soldiers doing, carrying out covert actions in and around Basra?

            Now we learn that this furore has expanded, since an Iraqi judge signed warrants for the arrest of the two soldiers, on a charge of killing an Iraqi police officer.

            Now, I look at these news items with a jaundiced eye: perhaps a pragmatic eye, – or if you like ... I am pragmatic!

            If – and I say "If" – a democratic system has been established, then why are Iraq’s "Allies" carrying out covert operations inside the puppet government and police force? Surely, it is reasonable to assume that countering so-called insurgents ought properly to be handled as a joint exercise with Iraqi authorities?

            It was admitted, last week, by the "coalition" that both, the "new Iraqi army" and its puppet police force, have been infiltrated by dissidents. How does this fit with the Blair/Bush strategy for "democratisation"?

            When this whole misbegotten exercise began in 2003, I and many others wrote elsewhere that Iraq would turn out to be another Vietnam. As the raison d’etre rapidly switched from a war against the nonexistent, horrendous and hugely dangerous weapons of mass destruction to a "Moral Cause" – one that even the weakest of noses could smell it in the air. Good old BS, emanating in equal doses from Washington and Whitehall spin miesters and their cooperative corporate media.

            True to form, the corporate media picked up an increasing volume of calumny and morphed all of this into "facts on the ground" – a tired, old ploy that lost effectiveness with even the most casual of readers/viewers a long time ago.

            So perhaps now we have the true reality: when "allies" feel the need to operate without our knowledge, behind "our" lines, loaded for bear, these allies – then in fact, they become our enemies.

            Now that this – another British-US secret operation has been exposed one can only wonder how many other deadly operations have been carried out and continue even now. Were it not for an alternative media watchdog like Axis of Logic and others, the corporate media would have its way with their misinformation/disinformation. We must continue to be circumspect and expose the real enemy of the people with vigilance.

* Michael C Feltham FCEA, ACPA, FSPA, is a columnist for Axis of Logic. By professional discipline, an accountant, who specialised in international finance and economic analysis in the 1970s. Until December 2001, he was an External Examiner and Moderator to Ashcroft International Business School at their Cambridge and Chelmsford faculties at MBA level. He writes widely on technical finance and economic matters. Michael is Founder and CEO of a software company and CFO of a New Media company.

Article Index

Sinister Events in a Cynical War

by John Pilger; September 27, 2005

Here are questions that are not being asked about the latest twist of a cynical war. Were explosives and a remote-control detonator found in the car of the two SAS special forces men "rescued" from prison in Basra on 19 September? If true, what were they planning to do with them? Why did the British military authorities in Iraq put out an unbelievable version of the circumstances that led up to armoured vehicles smashing down the wall of a prison?

            According to the head of Basra's Governing Council, which has co-operated with the British, five civilians were killed by British soldiers. A judge says nine. How much is an Iraqi life worth? Is there to be no honest accounting in Britain for this sinister event, or do we simply accept Defence Secretary John Reid's customary arrogance? "Iraqi law is very clear," he said. "British personnel are immune from Iraqi legal process." He omitted to say that this fake immunity was invented by Iraq's occupiers.

            Watching "embedded" journalists in Iraq and London, attempting to protect the British line was like watching a satire of the whole atrocity in Iraq. First, there was feigned shock that the Iraqi regime's "writ" did not run outside its American fortifications in Baghdad and the "British trained" police in Basra might be "infiltrated". An outraged Jeremy Paxman wanted to know how two of our boys – in fact, highly suspicious foreigners dressed as Arabs and carrying a small armoury – could possibly be arrested by police in a "democratic" society. "Aren't they supposed to be on our side?" he demanded.

            Although reported initially by the Times and the Mail, all mention of the explosives allegedly found in the SAS men's unmarked Cressida vanished from the news. Instead, the story was the danger the men faced if they were handed over to the militia run by the "radical" cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. "Radical" is a gratuitous embedded term; al-Sadr has actually co-operated with the British. What did he have to say about the "rescue"? Quite a lot, none of which was reported in this country. His spokesman, Sheikh Hassan al-Zarqani, said the SAS men, disguised as al-Sadr's followers, were planning an attack on Basra ahead of an important religious festival. "When the police tried to stop them," he said, "[they] opened fire on the police and passers-by. After a car chase, they were arrested. What our police found in the car was very disturbing – weapons, explosives and a remote control detonator. These are the weapons of terrorists."

            The episode illuminates the most enduring lie of the Anglo-American adventure. This says the "coalition" is not to blame for the bloodbath in Iraq – which it is, overwhelmingly – and that foreign terrorists orchestrated by al-Qaeda are the real culprits. The conductor of the orchestra, goes this line, is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian. The demonry of Al-Zarqawi is central to the Pentagon's "Strategic Information Program" set up to shape news coverage of the occupation. It has been the Americans' single unqualified success. Turn on any news in the US and Britain, and the embedded reporter standing inside an American (or British) fortress will repeat unsubstantiated claims about al-Zarqawi.

            Two impressions are the result: that Iraqis' right to resist an illegal invasion – a right enshrined in international law – has been usurped and de-legitimised by callous foreign terrorists, and that a civil war is under way between the Shi'ites and the Sunni. A member of the Iraqi National Assembly, Fatah al-Sheikh said this week, "There is a huge campaign for the agents of the foreign occupiers to enter and plant hatred between the sons of the Iraqi people and spread rumours in order to scare the one from the other . . . The occupiers are trying to start religious incitement and if it does not happen, then they will start an internal Shi-ite incitement."

            The Anglo-American goal of "federalism" for Iraq is part of an imperial strategy of provoking divisions in a country where traditionally the communities have overlapped, even inter-married. The Osama-like promotion of al-Zarqawi is integral to this. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, he is everywhere but nowhere. When the Americans crushed the city of Fallujah last year, the justification for their atrocious behaviour was "getting those guys loyal to al-Zarqawi". But the city's civil and religious authorities denied he was ever there or had anything to do with the resistance.

            "He is simply an invention." said the Imam of Baghdad's al-Kazimeya mosque. "Al-Zarqawi was killed in the beginning of the war in the Kurdish north. His family even held a ceremony after his death." Whether or not this is true, al-Zaqawi's "foreign invasion" serves as Bush's and Blair's last veil for their "war on terror" and botched attempt to control the world's second biggest source of oil.

            On 23 September, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, an establishment body, published a report that accused the US of "feeding the myth" of foreign fighters in Iraqi who account for less than 10 per cent of a resistance estimated at 30,000. Of the eight comprehensive studies into the number of Iraqi civilians killed by the "coalition", four put the figure at more than 100,000. Until the British army is withdrawn from where it has no right to be, and those responsible for this monumental act of terrorism are indicted by the International Criminal Court, Britain is shamed.

Article Index

Newspaper Reports on Britain in Iraq

Scotland on Sunday reported that Defence Minister John Reid says that he is planning to scrap the 25,000-member police force in southern Iraq and "replace it with a new military-style unit capable of maintaining law and order." John Reid has ordered a complete "root and branch" review of security in the area, which is under British control, following last week's violent clashes between British troops and the Iraqi police.

            Two British soldiers, dressed in Arab clothing, were confronted by Iraqi police in Basra. The soldiers shot and killed an Iraqi policeman during the confrontation. As Scotland on Sunday reported, the violence means that Tony Blair's plans to reduce British troops levels in 2006 will have to be "scrapped". Troop cuts will have to be postponed until 2007 at the earliest.

            One former defence chief told Scotland on Sunday the Iraq expedition had been a "colossal political failure". General Anthony Walker, a former Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, told Scotland on Sunday: "The soldiers should have said to the politicians 'forget this, we are not going into this conflict until you tell us how you are going to deal with this country once we have won you the war'. But they didn't, and it now looks as though we will be there a lot longer than we planned."

            The Daily Telegraph reports that Brig. Gen. John Lorimer, the British commander in Basra, defended his decision to send in tanks to save the two soldiers, saying he knew it was "bloody serious right from the start." He praised the British soldiers at the scene, saying that as they tried to "calm the situation," they were being attacked by 300 rioters using "petrol bombs" and rocket grenades. "We cannot have British soldiers being taken prisoner or held as hostages by anyone. We had to respond quickly and if necessary with force – what kind of message would this send to British soldiers everywhere if we hadn't tried everything to secure the release of our two lads. Hopefully, this incident will reinforce the point to terrorists that the British Army looks after its own."

            The Sunday Argus reports that the chief of the Basra antiterrorism court reissued arrest warrants for the soldiers, but British officials said they would not hand the men over, as the orders are not binding on British troops.

            Trevor Royle, diplomatic editor of the Sunday Herald, writes that the message the events send is not the one mentioned by General Lorimer, but one that says "this was not a country heading towards concord and reconciliation, but a country on the cusp of anarchy."

            Writing in The Sunday Times, Michael Portillo, former defence minister under John Major and supporter of the British efforts in Iraq, writes that these are "difficult times" for people like him who backed the war in Iraq. It's not that he has become an "admirer of those who opposed the war" but that the "illusions about the war" have been shattered. Many of the arguments that we put forward have lost their force. We liked to say that however bad things were, they were worse under Saddam Hussein. It seemed a safe claim after his reign of terror. But perhaps 100,000 Iraqis have died since liberation. Does the average Iraqi citizen feel more secure now? Hundreds daily seek work by joining the queues in the open air. They must be desperate to offer themselves as such obvious targets for suicide bombers. We imagined that Iraqis would benefit from cleaner water, more reliable electricity and better education. But America, the land of plenty, has failed to supply creature comforts to Iraqis, just as America, the superpower, has failed to keep them safe.

            The Scotsman reports that Prime Minister Tony Blair repeated earlier statements that he would not set a date for withdrawing British troops from Iraq, but he did admit that "the chaos and violence in Iraq is worse than he ever expected."

            The Guardian reports on a new poll shows that for the first time, a majority of Britons want a timetable, while " ... 64 percent believe the situation in the country is worsening despite the presence of British forces. Just 12 percent now share Mr Blair's belief that British troops are actually helping to improve the security situation."

            Not wanting to face a possible confrontation with members of his own party opposed to the war at the Labour Party annual conference, The Scotsman reports that Blair's supporters "successfully blocked a rebel motion to have the war debated on the conference floor".

Article Index

Protest is Criminalised and the Huffers and Puffers Say Nothing

George Monbiot, October 4, 2005, Guardian

“We are trying to fight 21st-century crime – antisocial behaviour, drug dealing, binge drinking, organised crime – with 19th-century methods, as if we still lived in the time of Dickens." Tony Blair, September 27 2005.

            "Down poured the wine like oil on blazing fire. And still the riot went on – the debauchery gained its height – glasses were dashed upon the floor by hands that could not carry them to lips, oaths were shouted out by lips which could scarcely form the words to vent them in; drunken losers cursed and roared; some mounted on the tables, waving bottles above their heads and bidding defiance to the rest; some danced, some sang, some tore the cards and raved. Tumult and frenzy reigned supreme ..." Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens, 1839.

            All politicians who seek to justify repressive legislation claim that they are responding to an unprecedented threat to public order. And all politicians who cite such a threat draft measures in response which can just as easily be used against democratic protest. No act has been passed over the past 20 years with the aim of preventing antisocial behaviour, disorderly conduct, trespass, harassment and terrorism that has not also been deployed to criminalise a peaceful public engagement in politics. When Walter Wolfgang was briefly detained by the police after heckling the foreign secretary last week, the public caught a glimpse of something that a few of us have been vainly banging on about for years.

            On Friday, six students and graduates of Lancaster University were convicted of aggravated trespass. Their crime was to have entered a lecture theatre and handed out leaflets to the audience. Staff at the university were meeting people from BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Shell, the Carlyle Group, GlaxoSmithKline, DuPont, Unilever and Diageo, to learn how to "commercialise university research". The students were hoping to persuade the researchers not to sell their work. They were in the theatre for three minutes. As the judge conceded, they tried neither to intimidate anyone nor to stop the conference from proceeding.

            They were prosecuted under the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, passed when Michael Howard was the Conservative home secretary. But the university was able to use it only because Labour amended the act in 2003 to ensure that it could be applied anywhere, rather than just "in the open air".

            Had Mr Wolfgang said "nonsense" twice during the foreign secretary's speech, the police could have charged him under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Harassment, the act says, "must involve conduct on at least two occasions ... conduct includes speech". Parliament was told that its purpose was to protect women from stalkers, but the first people to be arrested were three peaceful protesters. Since then it has been used by the arms manufacturer EDO to keep demonstrators away from its factory gates, and by Kent police to arrest a woman who sent an executive at a drugs company two polite emails, begging him not to test his products on animals. In 2001 the peace campaigners Lindis Percy and Anni Rainbow were prosecuted for causing "harassment, alarm or distress" to American servicemen at the Menwith Hill military intelligence base in Yorkshire, by standing at the gate holding the Stars and Stripes and a placard reading "George W Bush? Oh dear!" In Hull a protester was arrested under the act for "staring at a building".

            Had Mr Wolfgang said "nonsense" to one of the goons who dragged him out of the conference, he could have been charged under section 125 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which came into force in August. Section 125 added a new definition of harassment to the 1997 act, "a course of conduct ... which involves harassment of two or more persons". What this means is that you need only address someone once to be considered to be harassing them, as long as you have also addressed someone else in the same manner. This provision, in other words, can be used to criminalise any protest anywhere. But when the bill passed through the Commons and the Lords, no member contested or even noticed it.

            Section 125 hasn't yet been exercised, but section 132 of the act is already becoming an effective weapon against democracy. This bans people from demonstrating in an area "designated" by the government. One of these areas is the square kilometre around parliament. Since the act came into force, democracy campaigners have been holding a picnic in Parliament Square every Sunday afternoon (see www1.atwiki.com/picnic/). Seventeen people have been arrested so far.

            But the law that has proved most useful to the police is the one under which Mr Wolfgang was held: section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This allows them to stop and search people without the need to show that they have "reasonable suspicion" that a criminal offence is being committed. They have used it to put peaceful protesters through hell. At the beginning of 2003, demonstrators against the impending war with Iraq set up a peace camp outside the military base at Fairford in Gloucestershire, from which US B52s would launch their bombing raids. Every day – sometimes several times a day – the protesters were stopped and searched under section 44. The police, according to a parliamentary answer, used the act 995 times, though they knew that no one at the camp was a terrorist. The constant harassment and detention pretty well broke the protesters' resolve. Since then the police have used the same section to pin down demonstrators outside the bomb depot at Welford in Berkshire, at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, at Menwith Hill and at the annual arms fair in London's Docklands.

            The police are also rediscovering the benefits of some of our more venerable instruments. On September 10, Keith Richardson, one of the six students convicted of aggravated trespass on Friday, had his stall in Lancaster city centre confiscated under the 1824 Vagrancy Act. "Every Person wandering abroad and endeavouring by the Exposure of Wounds and Deformities to obtain or gather Alms ... shall be deemed a Rogue and Vagabond... " The act was intended to prevent the veterans of the Napoleonic wars from begging, but the police decided that pictures of the wounds on this man's anti-vivisection leaflets put him on the wrong side of the law. In two recent cases, protesters have been arrested under the 1361 Justices of the Peace Act. So much for Mr Blair's 21st century methods.

            What is most remarkable is that until Mr Wolfgang was held, neither parliamentarians nor the press were interested. The pressure group Liberty, the Green party, a couple of alternative comedians, the Indymedia network and the alternative magazine Schnews have been left to defend our civil liberties almost unassisted. Even after "Wolfie" was thrown out of the conference, public criticism concentrated on the suppression of dissent within the Labour party, rather than the suppression of dissent throughout the country. As the parliamentary opposition falls apart, the extra-parliamentary one is being closed down with hardly a rumble of protest from the huffers and puffers who insist that civil liberties are Britain's gift to the world. Perhaps they're afraid they'll be arrested.


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Photographers Stage Walk-Out at Labour Party Conference

Photographers at the Labour Party Conference staged a mass walk-out shortly before Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech on September 27, 2005.

            Access to the hall during the leader's speech has been customarily restricted in recent years, even to those with full accreditation. But this year very few photographers were granted access, using a seemingly random lottery system. Newsphotography.co.uk, for example, has been covering the party conferences for 11 years but was this year only granted balcony access.

            Therefore all the photographers, around 30 or 40 of them, decided to protest by walking out en-masse during Charles Clarke's speech.

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