Tag: un charter

Blair damned. But did the Chilcot report go far enough?

By Daniel Margrain

Having mounted sustained attacks on Jeremy Corbyn since he became the Labour leader, the Blairite factions within the right of the party stepped-up their campaign of vilification and hostility in the wake of the much anticipated release of the Chilcot report in what they hoped would be one last concerted push to depose him. With Corbyn remaining defiant and showing no indication that he plans to step-down, the strategy has clearly been a monumental failure. With grass-roots membership of the party set to increase to an estimated 600,000, Corbyn currently heads the biggest movement of the left in Europe.

The Chilcot report was utterly damning of Blair and, by extension, was also critical of the plotters opposing Corbyn who either abstained or voted in favour of the Iraq war. However, the report fell woefully short of offering any justice for the families of British soldiers who lost loved ones or for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who were killed. For many, it wasn’t necessary for Chilcot to have taken seven years to oversee a report comprising 2.6 million words at a cost of £10m, in order for the public to grasp the fact that the war amounted to what the Nuremberg Tribunal defined as the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Under the UN Charter, two conditions must be met before a war can legally be waged. The parties to a dispute must first “seek a solution by negotiation” (Article 33). They can take up arms without an explicit mandate from the UN Security Council only “if an armed attack occurs against [them]” (Article 51). Neither of these conditions applied to the US and UK. Both governments rejected Iraq’s attempts to negotiate. At one point, the US State Department even announced that it would “go into thwart mode” to prevent the Iraqis from resuming talks on weapons inspection.

Iraq had launched no armed attack against either nation. We also know that the UK government was aware that the war it intended to launch was illegal. In March 2002, the Cabinet Office explained that a legal justification for invasion would be needed: “Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.” In July 2002, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, told the Prime Minister that there were only “three possible legal bases” for launching a war: “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [Security Council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case.”

Bush and Blair later failed to obtain Security Council authorisation. A series of leaked documents shows that the Bush and Blair governments knew they did not possess legal justification. Chilcot repeated the lie outlined in the Butler Inquiry that the intelligence was not knowingly fixed. The contents of the Downing Street memo, puts that lie to rest. The memo, which outlines a record of a meeting in July 2002, reveals that Sir Richard Dearlove, director of the UK’s foreign intelligence service MI6, told Blair that in Washington:

“Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

The Downing Street memo reveals that Blair knew that the decision to attack Iraq had already been made; that it preceded the justification, which was being retrofitted to an act of aggression; that the only legal reasons for an attack didn’t apply. The legal status of Bush’s decision had already been explained to Blair. In March 2002, as another leaked memo shows, the UK foreign secretary, Jack Straw, had reminded him of the conditions required to launch a legal war:

“i) There must be an armed attack upon a State or such an attack must be imminent;
ii) The use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable;
iii) The acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack.”

Straw explained that the development or possession of weapons of mass destruction “does not in itself amount to an armed attack; what would be needed would be clear evidence of an imminent attack.” A third memo, from the Cabinet Office, explained that:

“there is no greater threat now than in recent years that Saddam will use WMD … A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.”

Apologists for Blair often claim that war was justified by recourse to UN resolution 1441. But 1441 did not authorise the use of force since:

“there is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12.”

In January 2003, the attorney-general reminded Blair that “resolution 1441 does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the security council” Such a determination was never forthcoming. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reaffirmed that the Iraq War was illegal having breached the United Nations Charter. The world’s foremost experts in the field of international law concur that “…the overwhelming jurisprudential consensus is that the Anglo-American invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq constitute three phases of one illegal war of aggression.”

As well as their being no legal justification for war, it’s also worth pointing out that the invasion was undertaken in the knowledge that it would cause terrorism – a point amplified by Craig Murray:

“The intelligence advice in advance of the invasion he received was unequivocal that it would increase the threat to the UK, and it directly caused the attacks of 7/7.”

Nevertheless, this determination was followed by a benevolent course of action. As Chilcot made clear, the process for coming to the conclusion that Saddam had in his possession WMD as the basis for Blair’s decision to go to war, was one in which his Cabinet was not consulted. Chilcot also revealed that flawed intelligence assessments were made with certainty without any acknowledgement of the limitations of the said intelligence. Third, that the UK undermined the authority of the UN Security Council, and fourth, that Blair failed the Cabinet about Lord Goldsmith’s rather perilous journey by saying the war was actually legal having previously said it was illegal having mulled over it for over a year.

However, even though Chilcot can be applauded for the fact that it did something that most other societies in the world didn’t do, ultimately the report can be defined by the fact that it fudged the legal question. Chilcot didn’t explicitly say that the war was illegal. As such, Blair in his post-Chilcot speech was still able to dishonestly depict the invasion as an effort to prevent a 9/11 on British soil in the knowledge that the real culprits of 9-11 were the Saudi elite who finance him.

In the run up to the report being published in which various worthies were wheeled out, Chilcot said“the circumstances in which a legal basis for action was decided were not satisfactory.” In other words, the establishment, which Chilcot and his team represent, hid behind processes as opposed to stating loudly and clearly that the British government at that point was hell-bent on going to war with Iraq irrespective of what the evidence said about WMD or anything else.

It’s quite astonishing that the comments made by an authoritative figure such as General Wesley Clark who tells how the destabilization of the Middle East was planned as far back as 1991, was not mentioned by Chilcot nor has been examined and debated in the mainstream media. Perhaps just as pertinently, both Chilcot and the media ignored the claim made by Scott Ritter who ran intelligence operations for the United Nations from 1991 to 1998 as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, that by the time bombing began, Iraq had been “fundamentally disarmed”.

In the post-Chilcot context, it’s clear that no lessons from the guardians of power in the media have been learned, despite claims to the contrary. This can be seen, for example, in the reluctance of the media to allow the expression of dissenting voices that extend beyond the restrictive parameters of debate the media create. In highlighting the inherent bias, Craig Murray said:

“The broadcast media seem to think the Chilcot report is an occasion to give unlimited airtime to Blair and Alastair Campbell. Scores of supporters and instigators of the war have been interviewed. By contrast, almost no airtime has been given to those who campaigned against the war.”

Similarly, Stop the War’s Lindsey German pointed to the lack of balance on the BBCs ‘Today’ programme. For the most part, the guardians of power are only too eager to fall into line by acting as establishment echo-chambers rather than challenging the premises upon which various stated government positions and claims are based.

Daniel Bethlehem, ‘The Propaganda Model’ and drones.

By Daniel Margrain

In their bookManufacturing Consent The Political Economy of the Mass Media’ (Pantheon, 1988), Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky set out their “propaganda model of media control” to examine the structural factors that lead to systematic behaviour and performance patterns within the media that are largely predicated on restricted assumptions and the dependence on an uncritical use of elite information sources helpful to elite interests.

In identifying these “structural factors”, Herman and Chomsky list five news “filters” through which “money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public” (p.2).

Herman says:

“The crucial structural factors derive from the fact that the dominant media are firmly imbedded in the market system. They are profit-seeking businesses, owned by very wealthy people (or other companies); they are funded largely by advertisers who are also profit-seeking entities, and who want their ads to appear in a supportive selling environment. The media are also dependent on government and major business firms as information sources, and both efficiency and political considerations, and frequently overlapping interests, cause a certain degree of solidarity to prevail among the government, major media, and other corporate businesses.

“Government and large non-media business firms are also best positioned (and sufficiently wealthy) to be able to pressure the media with threats of withdrawal of advertising or TV licenses, libel suits, and other direct and indirect modes of attack. The media are also constrained by the dominant ideology, which heavily featured anticommunism before and during the Cold War era, and was mobilized often to prevent the media from criticizing attacks on small states labelled communist. 

“These factors are linked together, reflecting the multi-levelled capability of powerful business and government entities and collectives (e.g., the Business Roundtable; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; industry lobbies and front groups) to exert power over the flow of information.”

Notice that the propaganda model is not a conspiracy theory. Herman and Chomsky write:

“We do not use any kind of ‘conspiracy’ hypothesis to explain mass media performance. Our treatment is much closer to a ‘free market’ analysis, with the results largely an outcome of the workings of market forces.” 

The lack of any meaningful political opposition from a legal standpoint to the killing by the UK government of two British citizens, Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin on,August 21 by an unmanned aerial drone in Syria, highlights the relevance of the Chomsky/Herman model in terms of the establishment acceptance of the consensus around the reconfiguration of international law that serves elite interests.

No evidence has been produced that supports the government assertion that these individuals were planning terror attacks in the UK or that they had participated in previous terror attacks. So what is the supposed legal basis for the killings?

Cameron said the UK had taken action in “self-defence”, invoking the right to do so under Article 51 of the UN charter – but Article 51 specifically states that an “armed attack” must take place against a UN member state before any such response. So where did the government base its decision to execute by drone two British men in Syria?

According to former establishment ‘insider’, Craig Murray, the decision was based on “Legal Opinion” from the Attorney-General for England and Wales, Jeremy Wright, a politician, MP and Cabinet Minister. But, as Murray points out, Wright’s legal knowledge comes from an undistinguished first degree from Exeter and a short career as a criminal defence barrister in Birmingham. His knowledge of public international law is virtually nil.

So Jeremy Wright’s role is as a cypher. He performs a charade. Ever since Iraq, whenever the government has needed a legal opinion in order to support a military action it has done so by utilizing the legal opinions of lawyers who are sympathetic to the government position so that the legal case can, if necessary, be adjusted to the policy. When the government don’t get the kind of legal opinion they require in order to justify an action, they ignore it or, as was the case with the Iraq debacle, they dismissed the relevant chief legal adviser which was at that time, Sir Michael Wood for declaring the Iraq war to be illegal.

The consensus from Iraq on has been to appoint legal advisers not from within the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) but to use public international lawyers from outside in order to save any government of the day that happens to be in power from any potential future embarrassment. Thus, Blair and Straw turned to Benjamin Netanyahu’s favourite ‘safe pair of hands’ lawyer, Daniel Bethlehem.

Murray elucidates further on one of the establishments’ most trusted liars:

Daniel Bethlehem had represented Israel before the Mitchell Inquiry into violence against the people of Gaza, arguing that it was all legitimate self-defence. He had also supplied the Government of Israel with a Legal Opinion that the vast Wall they were building in illegally occupied land, surrounding and isolating all the major Palestinian communities and turning them into large prisons, was also legal. Daniel Bethlehem, who was appointed by Blair as the FCO chief legal adviser, is an extreme Zionist militarist of the most aggressive kind, and close to Mark Regev, Israel’s new Ambassador to the UK.

The consensus view among the world’s leading international lawyers is that the Iraq war was illegal. Daniel Bethlehem’s contrary extremist position as outlined in a memorandum where he ‘develops’ the Caroline Principle, is one in which he posits that States’ have the right to use pre-emptive self-defence, is a minority view – the equivalent of a climate scientist arguing that man made climate change is a fraud.

It’s a minority view that’s nevertheless the consensus position within the UK political establishment. A key part of the memorandum states:

“It must be right that states are able to act in self-defence in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups, even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack.”

“It was this minority legal ‘opinion’ that formed the basis for the Iraq invasion. Similarly, it’s almost certainly the case that the same doctrine was used as the justification to murder UK citizens by drone in Syria. The notion that men travelling in a car thousands of miles away were imminently able to wreak havoc in the UK thereby necessitating the need for them to be executed on the spot without trial is obviously ludicrous.

Craig Murray reiterates how Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model works in practice within the corridors of power:

It was New Labour, the Red Tories, who appointed Daniel Bethlehem, and they appointed him precisely in order to establish this doctrine. It is therefore a stunning illustration of how the system works, that the only response of the official “opposition” to these extrajudicial executions is to demand to see the Legal Opinion, when it comes from the man they themselves appointed. The Red Tories appointed him precisely because they knew what Legal Opinion would be given on this specific subject. They can read it in Hansard.

So it is all a charade.

Jeremy Wright pretends to give a Legal Opinion, actually from FCO legal advisers based on the “Bethlehem Doctrine”. The Labour Party pretends, very unconvincingly, to be an opposition. The Guardian, apparently the leading “opposition” intellectual paper, publishes articles by its staff neo-con propagandists Joshua Rozenberg (married to Melanie Phillips) and Rafael Behr strongly supporting the government’s new powers of extrajudicial execution. In summer 2012 Joshua Rozenberg presented a programme on BBC Radio 4 entitled “Secret courts, drones and international law” which consisted mostly of a fawning interview with … Daniel Bethlehem. The BBC and Sky News give us wall to wall justification of the killings.

So the state, with its neo-con “opposition” and media closely in step with its neo-con government, seamlessly adopts a new power to kill its own subjects based on secret intelligence and secret legal advice, and a very weird definition of “imminent” that even its author admits to be outside current legal understanding.