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Bombs with a British accent

UK test bomb run

A British Tornado jet demonstrates a bombing run. linus_art under a Creative Commons Licence

As UK Prime Minister David Cameron attempts to persuade Parliament to back air strikes on Syria, another illegal assault on a country posing no threat to Britain, it transpires that Britain may anyway face war crime charges for arms sales to Saudi Arabia – arms being used to decimate civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen.

According to a report in the Independent, ‘Advisers to Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, have stepped up legal warnings that the sale of specialist missiles to the Saudis, deployed throughout nine months of almost daily bombing raids in west Yemen… may breach international humanitarian law.

‘Since March this year, bombing raids and a blockade of ports imposed by the Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Gulf states have crippled much of Yemen… thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed, with schools, hospitals and non-military infrastructure hit. Fuel and food shortages, according to the United Nations, have brought near famine to many parts of the country.’

The report goes on: ‘The UN estimates that 21 million people are now without basic life-sustaining services and over 1.5 million are displaced. Unicef estimates that as many as 10 children a day are being killed.’

Given that the population of Yemen is just over 24 million, the figures demonstrate that almost the entire population is experiencing unimaginable devastation in the onslaught. Yet the international community has simply turned its back.

In a statement which would be laughable were the situation not so devastatingly tragic, the Independent reported: ‘There is concern within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the Saudi military’s attitude to humanitarian law is careless. Officials fear that the combination of British arms sales and technical expertise used to assist bombing raids on Yemen could result in the UK being hauled before the International Criminal Court on charges relating to direct attacks on civilians.’

The British government’s attitude to humanitarian law has been arguably been beyond criminally ‘careless’ in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and they now aim to attack Syria in retaliation for an action in France, committed by French and Belgian-born terrorists of North African descent.

Highlighting this ‘carelessness’, Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International’s arms trade director, told the Independent: ‘There is a blatant rewriting of the rules inside the [Foreign Office]. We are not supposed to supply weapons if there is a risk they could be used to violate humanitarian laws and the international arms trade treaty – which we championed. It is illogical for Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to say there is no evidence of weapons supplied by the UK being misused, so we’ll keep selling them to the point where we learn they are being used.’

The latest issue of legal embarrassment for David Cameron’s government relates to a report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued on 25 November alleging that ‘the Saudi Arabia-led coalition used a British-made missile to destroy’ Yemen’s Radfan Ceramics factory, ‘a civilian object, on 23 September 2015.’

‘Philip Hammond claims he favours “proper investigations” into possible breaches of the laws of war in Yemen. This strike provides a perfect test case – the UK should urgently press the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to open a credible investigation into this strike, as well as others that appear to have violated the laws of war,’ said Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International.

‘Such attacks are serious violations of International Humanitarian Law and… can constitute war crimes,’ states the Amnesty Report. ‘All countries have legal responsibilities under international law to control the transfer of weapons and to restrict or prohibit their transfer in certain circumstances. The UK is a party to the Arms Trade Treaty [ATT] which came into force in late 2014… Article 7 of the ATT requires that States assess the potential that the arms being exported could be used to commit a serious violation of international human rights or humanitarian law; if there is an overriding risk of this, their export shall not be authorized.’

As Prime Minister Cameron contemplates committing more war crimes in Syria, he might perhaps ponder those he may already have on his plate and reconsider.

He may already be set to follow his admired ‘mentor’, former Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Tony Blair, in having to consult a lawyer before he boards a flight, lest he be arrested. And as someone remarked over another atrocity in another land, the Yemen bomb seemingly ‘has a British accent’.

Saudi appointment to UN human rights panel is a farce

Faisal Bin Hassan Trad

Faisal Bin Hassan Trad, now responsible for selecting the 'crown jewels' of the UN Human Rights Council. ITU Pictures under a Creative Commons Licence

‘All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action.’

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 12 March 2007, at the Opening of the 4th Human Rights Council Session

Article 55 of the United Nations Charter demands: ‘Universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.’ Yet in diametrical opposition to these fine founding aspirations, the UN recently appointed Faisal Bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the UN Human Rights Council, as Chair of an influential human rights panel. The appointment was seemingly made in June, but only came to light on 17 September, due to documents obtained by UN Watch.

As Chair, Trad will have the power to ‘select applicants from around the world for scores of expert roles in countries where the UN has a mandate on human rights’.

Such experts are often described as the ‘crown jewels’ of the Human Rights Council, according to UN Watch. Thus control over the ‘crown jewels’ – at least 77 posts to deal with human rights violations and mandates – has been handed to a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world. In a spectacular new low even for a UN whose former Secretary General, Kofi Annan, took 18 months to admit publicly that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was illegal, it has chosen ‘a country that has beheaded more people this year than ISIS to be head of a key Human Rights panel’.

In May, just prior to the appointment, the Saudi government advertised for 8 extra executioners to ‘carry out an increasing number of death sentences, which are usually beheadings, carried out in public’. By 15 June, executions had reached 100, ‘far exceeding last year’s tally and putting [Saudi Arabia] on course for a new record,’ according to The Independent.

The paper notes that ‘the rise in executions can be directly linked to new King Salman and his recently-appointed inner circle’.

In January, on the death of King Salman’s predecessor, King Abdullah (during whose reign the current record of 192 executions in one year was reached), Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron ordered flags to be flown at half mast, including at the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. This led one MP to wonder: ‘On the day that flags at Whitehall are flying at half-mast for King Abdullah, how many public executions will there be?’

The country is currently preparing to behead 21-year-old Ali Mohammed al-Nimr. He was arrested aged 17 for participating in anti-government protests and possessing firearms, though the latter charge has been consistently denied. Human rights groups are appalled at the sentence and the flimsy case against him, but point out that ‘neither factors are unusual in today’s Saudi Arabia’.

Numerous reports cite torture as being widespread, despite Saudi Arabia having subscribed to the UN Convention Against Torture. There are also ongoing protests at Saudi embassies across the world highlighting the case of blogger Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes – 50 lashes a week after Friday prayers – and 10 years in prison for blogging about free speech.

Since March, Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen – with no UN mandate – destroying schools, hospitals, homes, public buildings and a camp for internally displaced people, generating ‘a trail of civilian death and destruction’ which may have amounted to war crimes, according to Amnesty International. Close to 4,000 people, of whom half are civilians and hundreds children, have been killed in the conflict and over a million have been displaced.

A Saudi Arabian leading the Human Rights Council at the UN is straight out of one of George Orwell’s most nightmarish political fantasies. The website of the UN Human Right’s Council states: ‘The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) represents the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity. We have a unique mandate from the international community to promote and protect all human rights.’

Way to go, folks.

The Iraq Inquiry and the silent civil servant

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Anti-war protest, 1 December, 2008, Hyde Park, London, England. Gwydion M. Williams under a Creative Commons Licence

John Chilcot has held back the release of his findings for nearly 5 years. Bereaved families have had enough, writes Felicity Arbuthnot.

Bereaved British families who lost sons and daughters in the illegal invasion of Iraq have threatened legal action against Sir John Chilcot, who headed the Iraq Inquiry, if a release date for the Inquiry’s findings is not announced within 2 weeks. Suspicions over the reason for the approaching 5 years’ near-silence from Sir John, and his seemingly close relationship with former Prime Minister Tony Blair are also being raised through a detailed investigation by journalist Andrew Pierce.

Pierce refers to Blair’s first appearance before the Inquiry 5 years ago when ‘the Chairman, Sir John Chilcot, treated him with almost painful deference.’ What few realized was that Sir John, a former career civil servant ‘could, in fact, have greeted Blair as an old friend’.

They first met in 1997 when Blair was still Leader of the Opposition, at the discreet Travellers’ Club in Central London. ‘John Chilcot, at the time, was the most senior civil servant at the Northern Ireland Office,’ writes Pierce. ‘Civil servants often meet Opposition politicians for briefings [prior to] elections but they are usually held in Whitehall departments where [official] minutes are taken.’ A meeting at the ultra-discreet Club ensured ‘it was not made public’.

On becoming Prime Minister in May 1997, Blair ‘worked closely with Chilcot on the Northern Ireland peace process.’ When Chilcot retired, Blair gave him a knighthood.

However, points out Andrew Pierce, Sir John never really left Whitehall, undertaking a number of roles on public committees, ‘often at the behest of the Blair administration.’

In 2004 Lord Butler was charged with convening an inquiry ‘into the role of the [British] intelligence services in the Iraq war. Blair chose the members of the Inquiry’s 5-strong committee…. Chilcot was one of the first asked to serve on it.’

Foxes guarding hen houses cannot fail to come to mind.

Unexpectedly however, the Butler Review, as it was named, ‘provided devastating evidence that Downing Street, with collusion of intelligence chiefs, ‘sexed up’ the threat’ from Saddam Hussein. And yet the Report concluded that no-one should be held responsible. ‘In short,’ says Pierce, ‘it let Blair off the hook.’

****

When Blair’s successor as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, established the Chilcot Inquiry in 2009, it was originally to be held ‘behind closed doors’. Uproar from opposition MPs, senior military figures and the general public forced it in to the open.

Philippe Sands, QC, questioned the suitability of Sir John to lead the new inquiry.

He cited a first-hand observer who had described Chilcot’s ‘obvious deference to governmental authority’, a view he had ‘heard repeated several times. More troubling is evidence I have seen for myself.’

He was also dismissive of Chilcot’s questioning of Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, who had ruled that the Iraq invasion would be illegal, only to change his mind when Blair wrote on the top left-hand side of the page: ‘I really do not understand this.’

Professor Sands – author of Lawless World, in which he accuses former US President George W Bush and Tony Blair of conspiring to invade Iraq in violation of international law – also cited ‘Sir John’s spoon-fed questions’ to the former Attorney General, ‘designed to elicit a response demonstrating ‘the reasonableness of his actions and those of the government’.

In spite of the millions of erased and ruined lives, it seems likely Chilcot’s Inquiry, if it eventually appears, will prove another dead end.

As Sir Christopher Meyer, former UK Ambassador to Washington, pointed out: ‘When Downing Street set up the Inquiry into phone hacking, it was a Judicial Inquiry, led by a Judge [with] powers to compel witnesses to answer all questions put to them. Chilcot does not have that power. A Judge should be running this Inquiry, not a retired civil servant.’

Prime Minister David Cameron has paid lip service to exasperation, but regards Blair as a ‘mentor’ and in Opposition aspired to be ‘heir to Blair’. He has also refused Chilcot access to correspondence between Bush and Blair (held in government archives) which Sir John has been reported as regarding as essential to his findings.

****

Current speculations are that the world will see nothing until late 2016, unless the families of the bereaved win out.

Another reason for the inordinate delay is the decision of the Inquiry to write to every witness criticized in order to allow them to respond. How very cosy. Imagine that in a Court of Law.

However, there is worse to come.

According to a recent report, although ‘as many as 150 Ministers, civil servants and senior military figures have been sent details of criticism, including draft pages of the Report, due to the structure of the Inquiry, ‘Ministers and officials accused of wrongdoing will never be named.’

Indeed, ‘one former Labour Minister is now said to be going through hundreds of pages of the report “with a fine toothcomb”. The ex-Minister has also been offered free legal advice from the government.’

A £10-million stitch-up?

Reg Keys, speaking for one of the bereaved families threatening action against Sir John Chilcot’s team, has had enough. Tony Blair ‘should be dragged in shackles to a War Crimes Court,’ he says.

In a memorable speech on election night in 2005, when Keys stood as an independent in Tony Blair’s Durham constituency, Keys vowed: ‘I’ll hold Blair to account.’ Unlike Blair, Reg Keys speaks the truth.

Israeli pirates of the Mediterranean

marianneblog.jpg

The port of Ashdod. vic15 under a Creative Commons Licence

Piracy: ‘The practice of attacking and robbing ships at sea.’ (Oxford English Dictionary)

The ‘international community’ is, it would seem, remarkably selective about what it considers to be piracy.

Concern over Somali pirates in recent years has been such that foreign navies were sent to protect shipping in international waters.

In one incident, 3 alleged pirates were killed and a Somali teenager spirited away to the US to be tried, while 11 others were sent for trial in Kenya.

However, in the early hours of 29 June, 3 Israeli navy ships intercepted and hijacked a Swedish-flagged ship, the Marianne av Göteborg, en route to Gaza in the State of Palestine (recognized as a State by the United Nations on 30 November 2012 by an overwhelming vote of 138-9, which elevated Palestine to Non-Member Observer State – a status bestowed on just one other entity, The Vatican).

The Marianne was in international waters – approximately 100 nautical miles (185 kilometres) off-shore – but Israeli authorities boarded the vessel and the navy towed it to Israel’s port of Ashdod.

Those who boarded the ship allegedly stole cameras, computers, mobile phones and other belongings. It is hoped they will be returned, but the track record is not good.

Previously pirated vessels carrying aid cargo purchased by public donations, all destined for the people of Gaza, have experienced the same: their personal belongings and aid cargo taken and never returned.

The Marianne was carrying a consignment of solar panels, destined for a place where, for the most part, a constant electricity supply has become a distant memory.

Israel’s territorial waters (into which the Marianne had no intention of sailing) presumably should extend just 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) from shore as the 1984 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea directs:

‘Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with this Convention.’

Territorial waters do not extend 100 nautical miles.

Israel has claimed that it requested the Marianne to change course a number of times. Israel has no legal right to demand anything of a vessel in international waters.

In a mind numbingly schizophrenic communication to the Marianne, the Israeli government wrote:

‘There is no blockade on the Gaza Strip, and you are invited to transfer humanitarian supplies through Israel.’

If there is ‘no blockade’, it has to be asked, why should humanitarian supplies be sent to Israel and why indulge in multiple warship piracy, towing this most recent ship to a foreign country to which it had never intended to travel?

The communiqué ended in regret that the Marianne’s passengers had not chosen to visit Israel, where they would have been ‘impressed’ by the democracy upheld by the Jewish state that affords equality and religious freedoms for all its citizens.

So they were forcibly taken there to experience the ‘freedoms’ from the inside of Givon prison, where all but 2 are currently being held. It is truly a mad world in ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’.

Perhaps the government scribe was unaware of the latest of their country’s innumerable acts – far from resembling democracy or equality – targeting children.

These include cutting budgets for private Christian schools while increasing budgets (up to 100%) for the private yeshivas serving Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish population. The state schools that serve Palestinian citizens of Israel are also severely underfunded.

The passengers of the Marianne currently being ‘impressed’ by Israeli democracy from inside Givon Prison are:

Dror Feiler (Sweden) Musician and composer Ana Miranda (Spain) Member of the European Parliament Nadya Kervorkova (Russia) Journalist Kajsa Ekis Ekman (Sweden) Journalist, author Robert Lovelace (Canada) University Professor and retired Algonquin Chief Joel Opperdoes (Sweden) Crew Gustave Bergstrom (Sweden) Herman Reksten (Norway) Kevin Neish (Canada) Jonas Karlin (Sweden) Charlie Andreasson (Sweden) Ammar Al-Hamdan (Norway) Al Jazeera Arabic Mohammed El Bakkali (Morocco) Al Jazeera Arabic Ohad Hemo (Israel) Channel 2 Israeli TV Ruwani Perera (New Zealand/Aotearoa) MaoriTV Jacob Bryant (New Zealand/Aotearoa) MaoriTV

So far, the whereabouts of passengers Moncef Marzouki, former President of Tunisia (2011-14) and Palestinian politician Bassel Ghattas, a Member of the Israeli Knesset, are unknown at the time of writing.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, binding for 154 nations and the European Union (though not yet ratified by the United States), makes ‘piracy a universal crime and subjects pirates to arrest and prosecution by any nation’.

However, for all the quoting of its fine words, Israel has not signed this important, detailed Convention. No doubt some of the reasons for disregarding the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea can be found in the articles of Part 7, which declare:

Article 89: No State may validly purport to subject any part of the high seas to its sovereignty.

Article 90: Every State, whether coastal or land-locked, has the right to sail ships flying its flag on the high seas.

Article 100: All States shall co-operate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.

Ironically, Somalia was an early signatory to the Convention, signing in 1982, and can thus be held accountable. Will accountability ever apply to the supposed ‘only democracy in the Middle East’? Will the UN and the ‘international community’ ever demand it?

Those who work in solidarity with Palestinians to raise money and sail humanitarian goods to Gaza, risk their lives, are hijacked, or, like Palestinians themselves, are put in prison. Or even, as in the case of crew members of the Mavi Marmara, murdered.

When will this impunity end?

‘This is a very serious matter. They will slaughter him’

shadow bars

sailn1 under a Creative Commons Licence

On Saturday 10 January the Brussels Tribunal circulated a press release: ‘Iraq: Mr Uday Al-Zaidi – Appeal of Extreme Urgency.’

It outlined an appeal for the immediate and urgent mobilization of NGOs in securing the release of prominent human rights defender Al-Zaidi.

The appeal was necessarily brief, but the wider context is vital to understanding as another life hangs in the balance in the living hell of the ‘New Iraq’, constructed by Tony Blair and George W Bush.

Al-Zaidi was arrested by Iraqi security forces at 6pm on 9 January, near Al-Nasriyah, in southern Iraq. A respected journalist, Al-Zaidi is internationally renowned for his courageous advocacy work against the sectarian cleansing in Iraq.

This began with the onset of the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the US-British invasion. It was continued under the occupation and by then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and now under his replacement, Haider Al-Abadi.

Al-Abadi came in with the US-British tanks in 2003, having lived in London since 1977, where he was on the Executive of the (Shi’a) Islamic Dawa Party – which is headed by Nouri al-Maliki. The Prime Ministerial change in August 2014 has all the hallmarks of ‘same car, new paint’.

The urgency and gravity of Al-Zaidi’s situation cannot be over-stressed. Originally, his whereabouts were not even revealed, in contravention of all international legal norms.

On 19 January news broke that Al-Zaidi had appeared before an ‘investigative judge’, with a lawyer who said that charges against him (details of which remain unclear) were trumped up, false and irrelevant. He looked ‘tired and drained’.

Fears at this time were that he would simply vanish, ‘kidnapped’ by freelance militia, or that he would be spirited to a neighbouring country ‘as has happened to many before’, according to an impeccable source. It has since been established that he is being held by the government.

Al-Zaidi is being held in prison in Al-Nasiriya. He is being tortured, and is being interrogated daily. He has been on hunger strike in protest at his incarceration and treatment.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on 15 December 2014, he had described graphically, and at length, the reality of the humanitarian catastrophe resulting from the Iraqi government’s brutal systematic sectarian edicts.

Afterwards, he said that he was ‘expecting’ anything as a result. Warned to take extreme care in his movements, he determined to attend the funeral of a friend and was subsequently arrested.

His witness to Iraq’s ongoing tragedy has been tireless and internationally recognized, receiving the Brussels Resistance award in 2013.

‘Since 2003, there have been a million deaths and four million orphans... Iraq is a wealthy country. But its people have to dig in the garbage to try and survive.’

Even in Iraq, he addressed the dishonour of the Iraqi people manifested by a government which ‘represented their groups, militias and parties, and their masters abroad.’ He talked of the ‘defilements’ of Iraq, which finds itself ‘in an ever-deepening crisis’ and under ‘tyranny’.

Sabah Al-Mukhtar, President of the Arab Lawyers Association and Vice-President of the Geneva International Centre for Justice, states starkly of Al-Zaidi’s detention: ‘This is a very serious matter. They will slaughter him.’

Serious indeed. A March 2013 Amnesty International Report on Iraq’s Human Rights record is chilling, and includes this fragment:

‘Ten years after the US-led invasion that [overthrew] Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains mired in human rights abuses. Thousands of Iraqis are detained without trial or serving prison sentences imposed after unfair trials. Torture remains rife and continues to be committed with impunity, and the new Iraq is one of the world’s leading executioners. The government hanged 129 prisoners in 2012, while hundreds more languished on death row.’

Moreover: ‘Lawyers … have told Amnesty International that they no longer take the trouble to seek access to their clients during the initial interrogation phase, because they know the detaining authorities will not permit it. Moreover, seeking to do so, it would appear, can sometimes result in action being taken against the lawyers themselves. For example, in February 2012, the Ninewa branch of the Iraqi Bar Association informed UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] that five lawyers had been detained by the security forces because they had “attempted to represent individuals detained by the military”.’

Al-Zaidi is the brother of journalist Muntadher Al-Zaidi, who threw ‘the shoe that went around the world’ at George W Bush on 14 December 2008, for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq.

Should human rights and international law in Iraq now count for even less than the woeful post-invasion standing, the current prime minister, along with his predecessor, will surely eventually be held accountable in international law for the horrifying abuses.

Al-Zaidi symbolizes all those condemned to the nightmare of  ‘freedom and democracy’, justice and Iraq’s jails, secret and overt, in the ‘New Iraq’.

It is imperative to draw Prime Minister Al-Abadi’s attention to his personal responsibility for the safety of Al-Zaidi and all under government detention.

It is also incumbent upon the UN’s relevant organizations, UNAMI and all other appropriate international organizations that pressure be brought on the Iraqi Authorities for Al-Zaidi’s immediate release.

Tony Blair’s deadly legacy reaps Save The Children award

Tony Blair

Matthew Yglesias under a Creative Commons Licence

‘At Save The Children we want to delight and surpass your expectations.’
Save The Children website, complaints page

When the Orwellian-named ‘Middle East Peace Envoy’ Tony Blair was named Philanthropist of the Year by GQ magazine in September for ‘his tireless charitable work’ (tell that to the dismembered, dispossessed and traumatized of Iraq and Afghanistan) there was widespread disbelief.

Two months later, Blair, also known as the Butcher of Baghdad, Dodgy Dossier Master, and Sanctions Endorser of an embargo that, according to the UN, condemned to death 6,000 children a month, was awarded Save The Children’s Global Legacy Award at a Gala Charity at The Plaza in New York.

According to a Save The Children spokesperson, Blair was chosen for the Award for his work as Prime Minister, which included setting up the Department for International Development (DfID). As both Leader of the Opposition (1994-97) and then Prime Minister (1997-2007) Blair emphatically endorsed the Iraq embargo, and thus the silent monthly infanticide.

Between US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s admission in 1996 that ‘over half a million children had died’ (but that ‘we think the price was worth it’) and Blair’s time as prime minister from 1997 to the 2003 invasion, a further half a million children died (do the maths). Yet Save The Children – whose commitment ‘No Child Born to Die’ is at the top of each page of the charity’s website – have honoured this tyrant.

In his acceptance speech, Blair praised USAID and ‘the magnificent American and British military’, alongside Save The Children and other NGOs, for their work in Africa. This is the same USAID whose decades long inter-stepping with the CIA is a dark, shocking saga; the same US and British military which destroyed Iraq.

It has to be hoped that this shameful lauding of a man who should be answering to a Nuremberg-model war crimes tribunal, and on whom the Chilcot Inquiry is still to release its findings, has nothing to do with the fact that Chief Executive of Save the Children Justin Forsyth was in 2004 ‘recruited to No 10 [Downing Street] by Tony Blair’ and later became ‘Strategic Communications and Campaigns Director’ for Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown. Brown, of course, had been the Chancellor of the Exchequer who supported and wrote cheques for Blair’s lies and the resultant destruction of Iraq.

Another Save The Children executive, Chief Financial Officer Sam Aharpe, ‘worked for nearly 30 years with the UK Government development programme’, including under Tony Blair, according to their website. Fergus Drake, Save The Children’s Director of Global Programmes since 2009, had previously ‘worked for the Office of Tony Blair in Rwanda advising President Kagame.’

The day after Blair’s Gala Award, Save The Children, with UNICEF and other aid agencies, released a statement to mark the 25th anniversary of the Convention on The Rights of the Child. Called ‘Stepping up the global effort to advance the rights of every child’, the enshrined commitments were ‘not only to some children, but to all children… not only to advance some of their rights, but all their rights – including their right to survive and to thrive, to grow and to learn, to have their voices heard and heeded, and to be protected from discrimination and violence in all its manifestations.’

Irony, chutzpah, hypocrisy eat your hearts out.

Of course, as Gaza was decimated again in July and August, resulting in over 2,000 deaths (including nearly 500 children), the Middle East ‘Peace Envoy’ fled his posh pad in Jerusalem and gave a two-month-early ‘surprise birthday party’ for his wife in one of his seven British mansions, safely out of the firing line. He said nothing about saving the children, or indeed anyone else. He has subsequently been silent about Gaza’s 475,000 souls living in emergency conditions, the 17,200 destroyed homes and the 244 damaged schools.

So as Save The Children lauds Blair and trumpets the Rights of the Child, they should reflect on the horror he helped to inflict. Perhaps one letter encapsulates the anger targeted at Save The Children for their aberrant, deviant action with numerous calls for a boycott of the organization echoing around the world:

Dear Save the Children,

I am outraged that Save the Children has seen fit to contribute to the impunity, whitewashing and rehabilitation of one of the most serious war criminals of our time, Tony Blair, by awarding him a Save the Children Global Legacy Award. As Prime Minister, Mr Blair was warned consistently and repeatedly by FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] legal advisers that to invade Iraq would constitute the crime of aggression, which the judges at Nuremberg called the ‘supreme international crime’ because it ‘contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole’. In Mr Blair’s case, the ‘accumulated evil’ now includes hundreds of thousands of people killed, cities and villages reduced to rubble and the destruction of an entire society.

This award is especially horrifying coming from Save the Children, because Mr Blair is legally culpable in the deaths of tens of thousands of children killed in Iraq, mainly by coalition air strikes. The most thorough epidemiological study of excess mortality in Iraq as a result of the invasion and hostile military occupation found that American and British aerial bombardment was the leading cause of violent death for children in Iraq between 2003 and 2006.

I am bccing this email to about a thousand people, and I hope that all who receive it will take note and, in future, direct their efforts to help children to … other organizations who are not complicit in whitewashing the mass murder of children in Iraq.

With all due (but greatly diminished) respect
Nicolas J S Davies
Author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq

Front cover, New Internationalist December 2014 issueThis is an abridged and edited version of an article that originally appeared on the Global Research website. Sign 38 Degrees' online petition to get Save The Children to revoke the award here.

Look out for the December 2014 issue of New Internationalist magazine, which asks: NGOs - do they really help?

‘Pinpoint accuracy’ in Gaza


At the Emergency Room of at Shifaa Hospital, Gaza. Photo: Gigi Ibrahim, under a CC License

The Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights has now assessed the destruction to Gaza and the 1.6 million people living in an area of land just 41-kilometers long and 12-kilometers wide.

The devastation makes  it impossible not to believe that the stated aim of Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai to ‘…send Gaza back to the Middle Ages’, Gilad Sharon’s calls to ‘flatten all of Gaza’, were not aberrations, but reflected Israeli government intentions.

In the first five days of the Gaza onslaught, the Israeli military state carried out 13,050 air strikes on the tiny strip already blockaded since electing the Hamas government in 2006.

The Al Mezan Centre’s initial findings on death and destruction are chilling and shaming but were out of date just 24 hours later. In an extensive list, damaged or destroyed schools now stand at 52, the deaths at 168.

Exactly what threat the clinics, the schools, the headquarters of the Palestinian Paralympic Committee, now rubble, posed to Israel’s security is unknown.. It is also hard to know what threat the dead pose to the State of Israel; three cemeteries were also bombed.

‘Children shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected against any form of indecent assault. The Parties to the conflict shall provide them with the care and aid they require, whether because of their age or for any other reason’, states paragraph 1, Article 77 of the Geneva Convention (1977).

On 15 November, Nader Basioni,14, sleeping in the same room as his brother Faris, saw the nine-year-old decapitated when metal from an air strike on ‘a near by field’ tore through the family home. ‘His head was gone except for a piece of skin of his face’, said Nader. ‘I’m afraid to go to sleep because I see him in my dreams. It’s the same thing over and over.’

That famed ‘pinpoint accuracy’ stuff has done well. ‘Pinpointed’ seemingly, were two dead boys probably about nine years old, one with his stomach near eviscerated, remnants of his leg placed on his body. The other, his leg made meat, exposed bone, blood drenching his jaunty blue and white, matelot-type sweat shirt.

A nine-year-old girl lost the fingers of her right hand, her mother is working to explain that her artistic passion can be achieved as well with her left. Pinpointing doesn’t get more accurate than the fingers of a small right hand.

Seven-year-old Nisma Kalajar may never talk again. She suffered a head fracture after falling from the third floor family apartment when it was targeted in a drone strike.

The images seem without end: another father kissing the face of his baby daughter, his arms round his other two lifeless, pre-school age children; Iyad Abu Khawsah, eighteen months, so frail, ethereally slender, lying in the arms of a stricken faced morgue attendant.

Sitting on a hospital trolley, next to his prone mother was a child about the same age of that bandaged little brother. He had his chubby hand on one side of her face, and his knee wedged against the other side. Her great eyes looked up at his scratched, smudged face. He sat there shoeless, in black, yellow and brown top and just a diaper, patiently waiting for her to wake up. She never will.

When eleven members of the Dallou family were annihilated with five children, their home reduced to a large crater, the Israeli army declared it a: ‘mistake in identification of the right home.’ a blatant admission that targeting homes is a norm, in yet further defiance of a swathe of international law.

The direct targeting of civilians is a breach of the laws of armed conflict. ‘Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited,’ states Additional Protocol I of 1977.

Israel, naturally, has not ratified Protocol I, but this provision generally recognized as customary law, and is theoretically applicable regardless of ratification.’ It has to be wondered how a country that repeatedly defies UN Resolutions continues to get away with it.

Further, forgotten it seems, amid the deafening silence of the United Nations and its seemingly now mute Secretary General (even his spineless predecessor Kofi Annan used to respond to illegal annihilations with: ‘regrettable’ or ‘unfortunate’) are two UN Resolutions of 1974 and 2002 affirming the rights of the Palestinian people in Pealtesjing to self-determination and sovereignty.

If, as seems near certain, Palestine moves from ‘Observer entity’ to ‘Non-member observer State’ at the UN on 29 November, which: ‘implies recognition of statehood …’ states Vera Jelinek, Dean of New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, regained nationhood of what remants remain of Palestine’s un- stolen land edges closer.

As Al Mezan points out in their Report: ‘The failure of international community to make timely, effective interventions to protect civilians and condemn violations of international law; including the failure of the Security Council to issue a statement (on the Gaza attack) illustrates that international community continues to apply (double) political standards on human rights and international law issues; an attitude that could allow for violations of international law to recur in the future.

In India, 14 November was Universal Children’s Day, which is celebrated there on the birthday of Jawahalal Nehuru, the country’s first Prime Minister who was much influenced by his friend Mahatma Gandi, who said: ‘When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always.’

Why I don’t want a statue of Tony Blair


Tony Blair. Photo: World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, reproduced under a CC license.

‘At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. Oh had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke.’
 Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895.

In the week when Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for Tony Blair to be treated as other alleged war criminals and be tried at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, incredibly it transpires that the UK Parliament’s House of Commons Works of Art Committee has been discussing plans for a bust of the man who it seems faces an attempt at a citizen’s arrest almost every time he appears in public, to feature in the Member’s Lobby.

Since this proposed Orwellian tribute to a man that numerous leading international law experts are indeed working to have tried in The Hague will be at the taxpayers’ expense, the taxpayer should surely have some say in the matter.

Last year, sculptor May Ayres held an eye watering exhibition of her work at St John's Church, in London’s Bethnal Green. ‘God's Wars’, was dedicated to the victims of Blair's lies, the broken lives, broken bodies, broken babies, accompanied by chilling depictions of Blair, Negroponte and the worst of deviant military might.

Ayres’ Curator, Michael Perry encapsulates the wickedness of the assault on Iraq, largely enabled, argue the lawyers, by Blair's duplicity and ‘dodgy dossiers.’ Perry writes: ‘May and I both regard this lawless war as also the strangest and most sinister conflict that our country has ever been involved in.’

Writing in the Observer newspaper on 2 September 2012, outlining the horrors Blair’s duplicity had wrought in Iraq, Archbishop Tutu commented: ‘…in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague.’

If history is not again to be a ‘chronicle of lies agreed on’, and if there must be a statue in Parliament as there is of all other 20th century Prime Ministers, Ayres’ exhibition's presentation of Tony Blair could not be surpassed as the real man behind the orange perma-tan and seemingly ceaseless grin. The Committee surely needs look no further for a belatedly accurate replica.

Oh, and given that he has also made a potential target of the British people whereever they travel and of British interests at home and abroad, for years, if not generations to come, perhaps it would be more aptly placed by Traitor’s Gate, at the Tower of London.

Olympic kidnap, cover up, and one woman’s lone battle


Colin Powell, Dr. Iman Sabeeh (NOCI) and Ahmed Al-Samarrai in Washington DC, 2004.
Photo: Michael Gross, reproduced under a CC license.


As the triumphalism and self-congratulatory lauding of the Olympics winds down (at least until the start of the Paralympics on 20 August), for one woman the event has been one of searing heartache.

Niran Al Samarrai is the wife of the former President of the National Olympic Committee of Iraq (NOCI), Ahmed Al Samarrai, who was kidnapped at a major conference at the Oil Cultural Centre in the centre of Baghdad on 15 July 2006.

Thirty-six of his colleagues were also taken, but after 10 days 12 of them were released, exhibiting signs of torture. The others, including Ahmed Al Samarrai, have disappeared without trace.

The Cultural Centre is situated in the fortified and well protected ‘Green Zone’ (now the ‘International Centre’) near to the Ministry of the Interior. In November 2005, US troops found more than 160 whipped, beaten and starved prisoners there – most of whom were Sunni.

The Ministry was alleged to have been under the direct control of the highly sectarian Shi’a Prime Minister, Nuri Al Maliki, under whom Shi’a death squads were rampant and multiplying.

On the day of the kidnapping, Ahmed Al Samarrai had just finished addressing 500 members of the NOCI, alleging a plot against the Committee and naming names, when more than 60 gunmen in police uniforms stormed the meeting, having shot dead security men who tried to stop them. The area was ‘besieged’ by police vehicles, says Niran Al Samarrai.

The Committee members, and others, were forcibly ‘arrested’ by the armed ‘police’ and bundled into a ‘fleet of police cars’ seen driving away in the direction of the Shi’a enclave of Al Sadr city.

Incredibly, in September 2006, Iraq’s Minister of Youth and Sport, Jassim Mohammed Jaafer, in an interview with Arabic newspaper Al-Riyadhi Al-Jadeed (5 September 2006, Issue 420), stated that the abductors were from within the sports fraternity and he understood their grievances, indicating that the government was aware of who was responsible.

It is noteworthy that Ahmed Al Samarrai, who in 2004 had been the target of an ambush attempt in Athens, had ‘done his utmost to persuade the Minister or his advisors to attend the conference’. They had refused.

It must also be noted that the election of Ahmed Al Samarrai and his colleagues to the NOCI was organized with help from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Ministry of Youth and Sport and other parliamentarians, in the presence of numerous monitors, IOC members, members of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the media (both international and local).

Since the abductions, Niran Al Samarrai has fought a relentless battle for answers. In spite of the fact that she is a British citizen and her husband had defected from Iraq and lived in Britain from 1983 – until returning to Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government – even chairing London’s Swiss Cottage Islamic Association, and with a degree from the British Military Academy, she has been met with a wall of silence and obfuscation.

In 2008, Niran Al Samarrai met with the President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, who promised all assistance. Nothing has happened.

With Rogge in London for the Olympics and Paralympics, she has again appealed to him for help.

In an open letter, she writes:
‘In our meeting with you in 2008, you assured us that the IOC will do its utmost to pressurize the Iraqi government to tell us the fate of our men, but instead the IOC stood by the Iraqi government who announced your support prior to the Beijing Games. The Beijing Games then passed without any word at all from your side regarding the savage crime which attacked the NOCI, and the lack of investigation by the Iraqi authorities.’

She continues to say that she believes the ‘Olympic Family’ should be doing more to investigate the kidnap of someone who worked so hard for the Games.

‘As you know, we believe the government itself was responsible for that crime and then kept its silence and failed to conduct any proper investigation. Indeed, they didn’t bother even to meet those few who were released within 10 days of the abduction. We had asked you to meet them in order to see the torture marks on their bodies, but sadly we received no response from your side.’

She says Rogge should use the Olympic Games, just finished in London, to help her as a British citizen, especially given her husband was on duty for the ‘Olympic Family’ when he was abducted.

‘I believe the recently established NOCI, which replaced Ahmed and his colleagues, should also bear responsibility for ignoring the crime and not demanding any investigations. They are also responsible for holding [back] the salaries of the kidnapped, which left their families starving, although I believe they are entitled to receive salaries until the Beijing Games and the proper election of a new NOCI in 2009.

‘15 July 2012 was the sixth anniversary of the kidnapping. We are counting on your help, Sir, in the spirit of the Olympic values and out of humanitarian concern, to help all the families of those abducted to reach closure after six awful years of suffering. The London Games is a chance for any person with conscience to raise their voice and use their influence to bring about a resolution to this crime.’

Niran Al Samarrai has written a book about what happened to her husband and his colleagues called A Homeland Kidnapped, which has been published in Arabic and English. She is hoping that this will prompt action from those who she feels could have done more.

First Madeleine Albright, now Prince Harry: the strange world of humanitarian awards


Photo by An Honorable German under a CC Licence.

Humanitarian awards are surely taking on a whole new meaning. The end of April brought the obscene announcement that former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a woman prepared to sacrifice children by proxy, was to be awarded America’s highest honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for her role as a long-time champion of democracy and human rights around the world.

In the same 24 hours, an announcement was made that Britain’s Prince Harry was to receive a special award for his ‘humanitarian work.’

The Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership award ‘recognizes outstanding achievement’ and is presented annually by the Atlantic Council. Prince Harry and his brother, Prince William, were jointly nominated, and Harry travelled to Washington to accept on behalf of both on 7 May.

Madeleine Albright’s latest honour for her services to humanity has been awarded to others who compete admirably with her dedication. They include such peerless war mongers as Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, General Colin Powell – whose pack of lies to the United Nations in February, 2003 initiated Iraq’s destruction – and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair whose offices and officers provided those lies.

Human dove of peace, Dick Cheney has also been a recipient, as has his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Perez and General Norman ‘No One Left to Kill’ Schwarzkopf is yet another honoree.

Fellow recipient of the latest award with Albright is Bob Dylan. Funny world.

Prince William and Harry are both in the armed forces (between social engagements). In a career move that has been dubbed by many ‘a cynical PR stunt,’ William flies naval rescue helicopters. Seemingly it no longer looks good for a future king to play a part in killing people. Harry clearly faces no such trying constraints.

Deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2007, he reportedly lurked safely, deep in a bunker, out of harms way, surrounded by a phalanx of armed Royal Protection Officers while playing at being a Forward Air Controller who remotely (in all senses of the word) guided in aircraft to attack the locals.

There is not only an irony, but a terrible deviance, about a supremely privileged young man, whose entire upbringing has been in palaces, castles and the most elite of schools, calling in aircraft to destroy peasant farmers, in remote, poverty-stricken villages. If Albright sacrificed children by proxy, the Prince, arguably, killed them by proxy.

There is a further irony in that his ‘child within’ knows loss. At thirteen he walked behind his mother’s, Princess Diana’s, coffin as it was transported for her funeral after her death in Paris in an appalling car crash with her lover Dodi Fayed.

Harry was hurriedly whisked out of Afghanistan for his safety in January 2008, once the media had exposed he was there. Back home he and his brother have their own households, with flunkies to provide, and an aristocratic titled adviser to oversee their lives.

That the two Princes have established a charity to aid needy children in Africa while Harry has been involved in ending fledgling lives in Afghanistan – where he is due to return – is surely a near schizophrenic perversity.

The Atlantic Council presentation for the pair’s humanitarian endeavours, however, is ‘for efforts in championing’ other soldiers, many of whom were involved in invading and killing in two decimated lands which posed no threat to anyone, let alone far away Britain and America.

Prince Harry is being recognized (with the Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership award) for support to forces charities like Walking With The Wounded, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and Help For Heroes.

A St James’s Palace spokesperson commented: ‘Prince Harry will use the award to pay tribute to British and American veterans’ charities for their achievements in helping to rehabilitate wounded servicemen and women, and to reintegrate those who have served in the armed forces into civilian life.’

There will be no such helping and rehabilitation for their Afghan or Iraqi victims.

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