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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?

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‘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.

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Sleepless in Oxford

Here’s a question, something that has been bothering me for some time now: How does Tony Blair sleep at night?

I mean, how does he do it? I can’t sleep if my daughter’s hamster has a cold, or I’ve forgotten to defrost the fridge. This guy bombs countries, taking out thousands of innocent men, women and children, and sleeps like a baby. I mean, how does he do it?

Perhaps Cherie makes him a cup of hot cocoa each night…
CB: ‘What was your day like, sweetheart?’
TB: ‘Not bad, dear. Very busy. Baghdad blown to smithereens, Afghanistan reduced to rubble… oh, and I’ve just given the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear weapons and… goodness, I’m ready for some shut-eye.’

So, back to the question, how does he do it?

I guess, like so many in a position of supreme power, he believes in what he’s doing. Totally. ‘I am right, everyone else is wrong.’ It’s a stance that has served our rulers well over the years, enabling them to rest easy. ‘I’m at peace with my world, so screw yours.’ I mean, how else can they live with themselves, let alone grab a regular eight hours? And Blair is not alone in all this is he? The list is endless.

Did Haig sneak off for an afternoon kip after sending thousands to their slaughter at the Somme? Was Harry Truman snuggled up in bed as the atom bomb obliterated Hiroshima? Nixon, Kissinger snoring their heads off while B-52s blasted Cambodia back to the Stone Age? Margaret Thatcher catching up on her, er, ‘beauty’ sleep as the Belgrano plunged to the ocean floor?

But is it enough to believe you are right? Of course not. There must be something else. Rhino-hide skin? Fear of losing face? Of failing? The sheer inability to say: ‘Sorry, got that wrong’?

Actually, I’ve no idea how Tony Blair sleeps at night. It’s a mystery to me. But somehow he does. So, I’ll let you figure it out. I’m off to take the hamster to the vet.

Pass me those sleeping pills…!

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The first casualty of war is truth

The British Government has recently blocked the release of Cabinet minutes which would outline the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The reason for the censorship? Well, according the Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, it would ‘risk serious damage to Cabinet government’ and ‘far outweighs’ any public benefit (of publication). The decision was greeted by MPs of all political shades by calls of ‘shame’ and ‘disgraceful’. What is clear is that the Government is terrified at the prospect of Cabinet minutes seeing the light of day. What gems would be revealed there?

The decision to attack Iraq was highly controversial at the time, and remains so. We were taken to war on a lie – a lie that claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that they were 45 minutes away from attacking Britain. Governments lie, especially during times of war. After all, the first casualty in war is the truth.

Here’s a quote I saw the other day:

‘Of course the people don’t want war... that is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country’.

Who said that? Tony Blair? George W Bush?

No, it was Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler’s Deputy Chief and Luftwaffe Commander, at the Nuremberg trials in 1946.

We must all demand to know the legal basis of a war in which tens of thousands died.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/feb/25/cabinet-minutes-iraq-war
http://stopwar.org.uk/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_and_weapons_of_mass_destruction

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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.

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Europe: united against refugees

14-10-2016-Migrants_in_Hungary_2015-590.jpg

Migrants in Hungary near the Serbian border in a photo from August 2015. Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed under a Creative Commons Licence

Europe’s civil society has been outspoken in condemning Hungary for its stance on refugees.

On 2 October, Hungary held a referendum in which 98 per cent of voters (40 per cent turnout) voted against the ‘enforced relocation of non-Hungarians in Hungary’, a xenophobic campaign launched by Prime Minister Viktor Orbàn.

Many observers see the referendum as the symbol of a profound divide in European politics, between ‘old Europe’ and the so-called ‘Visegrad Group’: Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

According to them, the reluctance of Visegrad countries to receive refugees is out of step with EU ‘values’.

Yet the leaders of these states are inspired by the dominant principle of border control: the denial of all freedom of movement for asylum seekers and the aim of keeping exiles at an ever-greater distance from the Schengen area, preferably in detention.


Countries of the Visegrád Group. Map by CrazyPhunk

Visegrad countries were not alone in protesting when, for a few weeks at the end of 2015, Germany and Austria opened their borders to exiles taking the ‘Balkan routes’.

The welcoming policy broke with all European rules regarding asylum and resulted in real panic in the heart of the EU and in various member states.

Last February, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls publicly scolded the German chancellor during a visit to Munich, saying, ‘We can take no more refugees … The time has come to put into effect what has been discussed and negotiated: “hotspots”, controls at exterior frontiers, etc.’ He reminded us how, for more than 20 years, the EU has trampled over the founding principles of the right to asylum.

The EU subordinates the right to asylum to frontier control, barring exiles from access to asylum procedures that respect the Geneva Convention and international agreements.

European rules – notably the Dublin regulation – result in concentrating exiles in ‘countries of arrival’ urther challenging their freedom of movement. After German frontiers had been closed once again and the chancellor had returned to the positions long shared by her European partners, anathema could be pronounced against the Italians and Greeks for being incapable of ensuring the ‘security’ of the EU and of facing up to the ‘migrant influx’.

A hotspots policy promoted by the European Commission since the spring of 2015 and progressively implemented from February 2016 was presented as the solution to the ‘migrant crisis’: despatching European officials and opening camps for the identification and triage of exiles on Greek islands and in Italy to increase the expulsions of asylum seekers crossing the sea to reach EU frontiers. The recognition of Turkey as a ‘safe country’, and the agreement concluded with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in March 2016, were in pursuit of these aims. For months, the European Commission had argued in favour of an increase in the number of ‘returns’ and for more co-operation agreements with countries of ‘transit’ or ‘departure’.
Migrants who were rescued from a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea are pictured in Al-Beheira, Egypt. Photo via REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Even the very policy of ‘relocation’ – provisional rules about the distribution of asylum seekers arriving in Greece and Italy between EU member states – has been overruled by the logic of hotspots.

On 26 September 2016, only 5,600 people – less than 10 per cent of the number originally envisaged – had been ‘relocated’. The same day, more than 60,000 exiles were crammed into Greek camps in conditions universally criticised as inhumane. The number of ‘relocations’ is likely to decline in coming weeks. Soon after its start, the initiative has already run out of steam.

In July, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was worried that the Aegean islands had become ‘vast zones of forced confinement’. After having turned the Mediterranean Sea into a vast cemetery where over 4,000 people have died since the start of 2016, European policy is transforming Greece into an archipelago of detention camps.

The situation shocks human rights defenders. But it also worries many heads of state who would rather be overseeing the creation of enclosed areas outside EU borders. Revisiting UK prime minister Tony Blair’s 2003 proposal, Viktor Orbàn stated on 24 September that ‘big refugee camps should be set up outside the EU, financed and guarded by it’, to which migrants should be transported and where they should be ‘obliged to stay while their asylum applications are considered.’ His words must be taken seriously. Hungary may have been the first country in the Schengen area to literally wall off some of its frontiers, but its example has since been copied, notably by the French and British.

‘Putting up fences for people where we would not do the same for animals, that is not respecting European values,’ said Laurent Fabius, then French foreign minister, when Hungary set out to construct the ‘anti-migrant wall’ along its frontier with Serbia.

But the promotion of a world of camps and walls is not just the project of the Hungarian leader. It is also the dominant feature of migration policy pursued by many nations, including the EU and its member states for 20 years.

A similar version of this article appeared on Open Democracy on 11 October 2016.

Emmanuel Blanchard is the chairman of Migreurop, a Euro-African network against policies which isolate migrants, deportation, border closures and externalization of migratory controls.

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Tony Blair, the Mideast Peacemaker that never was

Tony Blair

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Israeli Seperation Wall. Christliches Medienmagazin under a Creative Commons Licence

Since Tony Blair’s 27 May resignation as Middle East peace envoy for the Quartet (representing the US, Russia, the EU and the UN, all claiming to advance ‘peace and prosperity’ for both Israelis and Palestinians), many are wondering why Britain’s former prime minister was considered suitable to the task of seeking peace between the occupiers and the occupied in the first place. Many critics have characterized Blair’s eight-year stint as a failure and disappointment. How could a man responsible for multiple Middle East invasions, leading to the deaths of Muslims, be expected to bring peace to the region? Following news of Blair’s resignation, it is important to reflect more generally on the inevitability of the inaction of peace envoys, as offering an explanation to the endless bloodshed and ultimate injustice pervasive in the Middle East.

Jonathan Foreman, writing for Politico, extended sympathy to Blair due to the ‘impossible’ nature of his job, arguing that much of the levelled criticism was informed by ‘ignorance of the relations of the region and the role he was supposed to play in it.’ But the ‘realities’ of a region are never separated from the role that Western powers have played in shaping them. Arguing that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are the primary driving force behind conflict – a sentiment shared by Foreman and those who similarly suggest that action taken by peace envoys is restricted by the messy nature of local Middle Eastern politics – is futile when considering that Western money and power know no limits when enabling conflict in their region to continue.

Blair’s time as envoy of the International Quartet meant representing its so-called peacemaking process. But Western powers have collectively proven that their concerns lie primarily with bolstering their own causes – which lie largely in the demonization of the East, and all that has resisted their Westernization. The term ‘Western Middle East peacemaker’ appears to be an oxymoron. It is not the task that they are faced with that is impossible so much as the expectation of those that create conflict to be able to fix it.

The Israeli-Palestinian history is one that requires much disentangling. But what is clear when studying its origins is that European powers have nothing to gain from ending a conflict that began as a result of their ideals. Zionism, the political movement responsible for advocating the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel – leading to the exile and oppression of the Palestinian people – is part of a larger Eurocentric discourse. Zionism inherits its principles from Eurocentric thought, ultimately projecting the Orientalist construction of the ‘Other’ on to the Arab, while applying the ‘Self’ to the Diasporic-Jew. The goal of Zionism has been long debated, but its aim can be summed up concisely by Professor Ella Shohat’s suggestion that it attempts to repress the Middle-Easternness of the Jews in an effort to Westernize the Israeli nation. Therefore, the Israeli-Palestinian story can quite simply be understood as an extension of Western colonialist history, with Israel rewarded by the West for adopting its oppressive ideals, and the Palestinians persecuted in order for the dichotomy, and subsequent Western supremacy, to function.

As for the US, which is also implicated in both adopting and advocating Orientalist Western ideology, it is responsible for funding Israel’s occupation of Palestine, under the false pretence of both Israel’s right to ‘self-defence’ and its own; a claim that is used to justify its ‘war on terror’. This funding has contributed not only to over 1,000 Palestinian deaths in Israel’s most recent use of excessive force in bombing the trapped population of Gaza in 2014, but more generally to the 9,131 Palestinian deaths that have occurred since September 2000, with US taxpayers giving Israel roughly $8 million per day. Both European powers, and Russia – whose President, Vladimir Putin, is notorious for his pro-Israeli stance – are also responsible for funding the onslaught.

What is clear here is that Western powers are not hindered by limitations when it comes to ensuring exile and oppression, but their peace envoys are supposedly helpless to effect change when it comes to that which their role calls for – namely peace. Blair himself fell back on the insidious argument that both Iraq and Palestine would have found themselves disrupted, regardless of his intervention, thus ridding himself of the responsibility called for in his role as ‘special’ envoy (a title he designed for himself).

When one considers the role that the West has played in shaping this conflict, one has to ask: would Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even accept suggestions made by peace envoys to bring the conflict to an end? Inheriting ideology from the West that supports occupation, as well as receiving its money to ensure it is sustained, only to be told to end it all, would be a difficult concept for Israel to stomach – its contradictory nature pointing to the near-impossibility of it actually happening.

While giving up hope of intervention may appear a bleak prospect, ensuring that we do not rely fallaciously on Middle East peacemakers, who have created more war than peace, to effect change is the very least we owe to all who have had their hopes of the recognition of a Palestinian state – still a faint prospect at the start of Blair’s appointment as envoy – crushed.

More importantly, it is crucial to emphasize that the West is not merely complicit in oppression, standing back indifferent to suffering, but rather, it actively contributes to both its very foundations and development. A mentality that rids Western powers of responsibility is a dangerous one. It poses the risk of further advocating false national narratives, contributing to historical erasure and ultimately leaving behind no hope for an informed understanding of one of the longest-lasting conflicts of our time.

Neda Tehrani is a graduate of Religion, Philosophy and Ethics from Kings College, London.

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Why I attempted to arrest Tony Blair last week

Last Thursday, I attempted a citizen's arrest of Tony Blair for crimes against peace as he was about to present a speech at Hong Kong University about faith. It seems particularly dubious for the ex-British Prime Minister to address the subject of religion, as he has done so much to enrage the Muslim world and thus set back religious tolerance by decades.
My confrontation with Blair came during the deadliest week of violence in Iraq since the US pull-out, and a day after the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor asked judges to hand down their first sentence to a fellow war criminal, Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga. All current ICC investigations and prosecutions are related to African nations, yet Mr Blair's status as an ex-Western leader does not exempt him from its founding Rome Statute, to which Britain is a signatory.

Some will find the comparison absurd but there is little moral difference when the products of their respective leaderships were mass human rights violations against civilian populations. Blair has requested that people ‘move on’ from the Iraq War yet, with documented civilian deaths now totalling at least 107,000, leading QC Michael Mansfield has confirmed that there now appears to be enough evidence to trigger an ICC investigation. Legally, the type of weaponry deployed in the war (depleted uranium and cluster bombs) can be described as ‘indiscriminate’, thus making him liable for mass civilian causalities.

As I put to Blair personally, he is answerable to the sixth 1950 Nuremburg Principle which forbids ‘wars of aggression’ and gave rise to the Rome Statute – I also stated that he defied articles 31 and 51 of the UN Charter. Leaked Downing Street memos from 2002 reveal his determination to follow the US into Iraq despite knowing his government would be violating the two aforementioned UN articles which would permit an invasion.

In fact, the later discredited evidence of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction was irrelevant to Blair as he admitted during the 2009 Chilcot Inquiry that he would have attacked Iraq regardless as to whether such WMDs were discovered.

Blair responded to the charges I put to him by joking to his audience how he’s ‘used to’ such protests and how ‘that’s democracy for you.’ I do not know whether he believes the incident showcased freedom of speech or whether he was lamenting such political rights, but Britons will be familiar with the erosion of civil liberties he brought about in the UK. His Orwellian legacy leaves fewer effective options remaining in the activist’s toolbox.

Neither the coalition nor the opposition harbour much political appetite for a domestic criminal investigation, I therefore encourage members of the public to heed journalist George Monbiot’s call to challenge Blair directly and pursue peaceful citizen’s arrests against him.

My own attempt turned out to be the least controversial thing I’d ever done – the public seemed unified across comment sections and social networks, from the left and right, that there is a strong case against him. However, he continues to travel freely around the world earning millions as head of a complex, opaque mix of political, business and philanthropic ventures. He commands huge sums from the financial industry and even accepted £13 million ($20.4 million) to advise brutal Kazakh autocrat Nursultan Nazarbayev.

It was improbable that Hong Kong police would uphold local law and frogmarch the ex-PM to The Hague, but there has been some success in renewing awareness of the outstanding legal questions. One day, it is hoped the charges will stick and he may finally find himself in court. In the meantime, it is important that the pressure is maintained, that the media spotlight is constant and that Mr Blair rightly continues to feel the threat of prosecution wherever he goes.

Tom Grundy, 29, is a British activist based in Hong Kong. He is eligible for a bounty of £2400 ($3,760) from arrestblair.org for his arrest attempt which he will donate to relevant charities such as the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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Government intrusion and the loss of human rights

CCTV cameras

rafael parr under a Creative Commons Licence

On 21 September 2001, US President George Bush declared: ‘Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.’

Some believed that defending us from these ‘rogue Islamists’ would make us safer. But in truth our lives in the West have become far less secure. While Western foreign policy aimed at combatting ‘Islamism’ has merely exacerbated a problem, hypocritical Western governments turn a blind eye to, and even perpetuate, certain human rights abuses within the Middle East (and elsewhere).

The fact that we are less safe isn’t the only legacy of the ‘war on terror’. One major, and often overlooked, legacy is the significant decline in civil liberties in Britain and other Western countries – the very civil liberties that we used to believe were central to our democratic society.

Yet we have seen a consistent repealing of such rights, without notice. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair famously led an assault on our civil liberties in the name of the ‘war on terror’, going so far as to try to introduce measures to detain suspected terrorists for 90 days without charge. He also tabled the idea of mandatory ID cards which would have led to ‘unnecessary and disproportionate intrusion into individuals’ privacy’ according to the then Information Commissioner Richard Thomas.

Although unsuccessful at bringing in ID cards or introducing the 90-day detention, Blair’s New Labour government did succeed in overseeing the start of an unravelling of our basic rights against the backdrop of terrorist fearmongering.

Laws such as The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 allow the government to decrypt private messages and communications in the name of national security. The government can now detain people without trial and electronically tag anyone suspected of terrorist activity, even without sufficient evidence for a trial.

The notorious and controversial Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was an example of such powers. When it was brought in it allowed police to stop and search anyone, without suspicion, within ‘designated areas’ (which included all of Greater London) and was utilized by police to harass peaceful protesters. Thanks to work from civil liberties and human rights campaigning group Liberty, which took the British government to court in 2010, Section 44 can no longer be used as freely.

The best-known case of government intrusion into our private lives came to light with the revelations made by Edward Snowden in 2013. Snowden leaked details of how the US National Security Agency (NSA) collected 194 million text messages and 5 billion location records every day – and shared the data with the British government’s intelligence and security organization, GCHQ.

Such widespread surveillance into the private lives of most British people, without consent, clearly undermines the democratic legitimacy of the British government. Though some may explain it away with the establishment logic that ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’, in reality we’re living in an age where Google is harvesting all of our data in conjunction with security agencies.

The ruling Conservative Party, now with a majority in parliament, is set to continue Tony Blair and New Labour’s work. They introduced Secret Courts and are now working to repeal the Human Rights Act, which has serious implications for everyone living in Britain.

The furore over the Edward Snowden leaks has died down, yet we continue to be spied on in the name of ‘national security’. Can a society claim to be free and open when the government is able to monitor our every move? In Britain, we have 20 per cent of the world’s CCTV cameras aimed at just 1 per cent of the world’s population. While terrorism is a genuine threat, spying on ordinary people isn’t the answer. An honest conversation about British foreign policy and arms policy is a better way to get to the heart of the issue.

 

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