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>Selling Indulgences

>The trade in carbon offsets is an excuse for business as usual

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (October 18 2006)

http://www.monbiot.com (October 19 2006)

Rejoice! We have a way out. Our guilty consciences appeased, we can continue to fill up our SUVs and fly round the world without the least concern about our impact on the planet. How has this magic been arranged? By something called “carbon offsets”. You buy yourself a clean conscience by paying someone else to undo the harm you are causing.

The Co-op’s holiday firm Travelcare has just started selling offsets to its customers. If they want to fly to Spain, they pay an extra GBP 3. Then they can forget about their contribution to climate change. The money will be spent on projects in the developing world, such as building wind farms and more efficient cooking stoves. In August, BP launched its “targetneutral” scheme, enabling customers to “neutralise the carbon dioxide emissions caused by their driving” {1}. The consequences of an entire year’s motoring can be discharged for just GBP 20. Again, your money will be invested in the developing world – “a biomass energy plant in Himachal Pradesh; a wind farm in Karnataka, India and an animal waste management and methane capture program in Mexico” – and you need have no further worries about what you and BP are doing to the atmosphere (or, for that matter, to the people of West Papua or the tundra in Alaska).

It sounds great. Without requiring any social or political change, and at a tiny cost to the consumer, the problem of climate change is solved. Having handed over a few quid, we can all sleep easy again.

This is not the first time that such schemes have been sold. In his book The Rise of the Dutch Republic, published in 1855, John Lothrop Motley describes the means by which the people of the Netherlands in the 15th and 16th centuries could redeem their sins. “The sale of absolutions was the source of large fortunes to the priests … God’s pardon for crimes already committed, or about to be committed, was advertised according to a graduated tariff. Thus, poisoning, for example, was absolved for eleven ducats, six livres tournois. Absolution for incest was afforded at thirty-six livres, three ducats. Perjury came to seven livres and three carlines. Pardon for murder, if not by poison, was cheaper. Even a parricide could buy forgiveness at God’s tribunal at one ducat; four livres, eight carlines.” {2}

Just as in the 15th and 16th centuries you could sleep with your sister and kill and lie without fear of eternal damnation, today you can live exactly as you please as long as you give your ducats to one of the companies selling indulgences. It is pernicious and destructive nonsense.

The problem is this. If runaway climate change is not to trigger the irreversible melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets and drive hundreds of millions of people from their homes, the global temperature rise must be confined to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. As the figures I have published in Heat show, this requires a sixty per cent cut in global climate emissions by 2030, which means a ninety percent cut in the rich world. Even if, through carbon offset schemes carried out in developing countries, every poor nation on the planet became carbon-free, we would still have to cut most of the carbon we produce at home. Buying and selling carbon offsets is like pushing the food around on your plate to create the impression that you have eaten it.

Any scheme that persuades us we can carry on polluting delays the point at which we grasp the nettle of climate change and accept that our lives have to change. But we cannot afford to delay. The big cuts have to be made right now, and the longer we leave it, the harder it will be to prevent runaway climate change from taking place. By selling us a clean conscience, the offset companies are undermining the necessary political battle to tackle climate change at home. They are telling us that we don’t need to be citizens; we need only be better consumers.

BP and Travelcare, like other companies, want to keep expanding their business. Offset schemes allow them to do so while pretending they have gone green. Yet aviation emissions, to give one example, are rising so fast in the UK that before 2020 they will account for the country’s entire sustainable carbon allocation {3}. A couple of decades after that, global aircraft emissions will match the sustainable carbon level for all economic sectors, across the entire planet. Perhaps the carbon offset companies will then start schemes on Mars and Jupiter, as we will soon need several planets to absorb the carbon dioxide we release. Offsets, in other words, are being used as an excuse for the unsustainable growth of carbon-intensive activities.

But these are by no means the only problems. A tonne of carbon saved today is far more valuable in terms of preventing climate change than a tonne of carbon saved in three years’ time. Almost all the carbon offset schemes take time to recoup the emissions we release today. As far as I can discover, none of the companies which sell them uses discount rates for its carbon savings (which would reflect the difference in value between the present and the future). This means they could all be accused of unintentional but systemic false accounting.

And while the carbon we release by flying or driving is certain and verifiable, the carbon absorbed by offset projects is less attestable. Many will succeed, and continue to function over the necessary period. Others will fail, especially the disastrous forays into tree-planting that some companies have made. To claim a carbon saving, you also need to demonstrate that these projects would not have happened without you – that Mexico would not have decided to capture the methane from its pig farms, or that people in India would not have bought new stoves of their own accord. In other words, you must look into a counterfactual future. I have yet to meet someone from a carbon offset company who possesses supernatural powers.

At the offices of Travelcare and the forecourts owned by BP, you can now buy complacency, political apathy and self-satisfaction. But you cannot buy the survival of the planet.

_____

George Monbiot’s new book, Heat: how to stop the planet burning is published by Penguin. He has also launched a website – www.turnuptheheat.org – exposing the false environmental claims of companies and politicians.

References:

1. See http://www.targetneutral.com

2. John Lothrop Motley, 1855. The Rise of the Dutch Republic: Part 2, Chapter 11. http://historicaltextarchive.com/books.php?op=viewbook&bookid=60&cid=11

3. Extrapolated from Alice Bows, Paul Upham and Kevin Anderson, 16th April 2005. Growth Scenarios for EU & UK Aviation: contradictions with climate policy. Report for Friends of the Earth Trust Ltd. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change. http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/aviation_tyndall_research.pdf

Copyright (c) 2006 Monbiot.com

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/10/19/selling-indulgences/

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

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>The Savage Extreme of a Narrow Policy Spectrum

>[This is a bit old but may be helpful to those who think or hope the upcoming election has any chance of making the empire any less evil.]

Five Questions with Noam Chomsky

by Merlin Chowkwanyun

CounterPunch (July 31 2004)

MIT Professor Noam Chomsky is one of the world’s most perceptive social critics. I had the opportunity recently to ask him some questions concerning a range of subject matter. Professor Chomsky’s latest book is Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (Metropolitan Books, 2003). Other works, many recently reissued, include American Power and the New Mandarins (New Press revised edition, 2002), Manufacturing Consent (Pantheon reprint, 2002), and Deterring Democracy (Hill & Wang reissue, 1992).

Merlin Chowkwanyun: One scholar and activist whom you’ve cited (and whom I wish more people knew about and read) is Seymour Melman, who more than two decades ago articulated the concept of a “permanent war economy”. What was Melman describing, and how does it limit or shape a chief executive’s foreign policy?

Professor Noam Chomsky: The term “permanent war economy” is attributed to Charles Wilson, CEO of GE, who warned at the end of World War II that the US must not return to a civilian economy, but must keep to a “permanent war economy” of the kind that was so successful during the war: a semi-command economy, run mostly by corporate executives, geared to military production. Among other very important contributions, Melman has written extensively on the harmful effects of gearing much of the economy to military production rather than to civilian needs. What he describes is correct and important, but there are other dimensions to be considered. After World War II, most economists and business leaders expected that the economy would sink back to depression without massive government intervention of the kind that, during the war years, finally overcame the Great Depression. The New Deal had softened the edges, but not much more. Business understood that social spending could overcome market catastrophes as well as military spending, but social spending has a downside: it has a democratizing and redistributive effect while military spending is a gift to the corporate manager, a steady cushion. And the public is not involved. People care about hospitals and schools, but if you can “scare the hell out of them”, as Senator Vandenberg recommended, they will huddle under the umbrella of power and trust their leaders when it comes to jet planes, missiles, tanks, et cetera. Furthermore, business was well aware that high-tech industry could not survive in a competitive free enterprise economy, and “government must be the savior”, as the business press explained. Such considerations converged on the decision to focus on military rather than social spending. And it should be borne in mind that “military spending” does not mean just military spending. A great deal of it is high-tech R&D. Virtually the entire “new economy” has relied heavily on the military cover to socialize risk and cost and privatize profit, often after many decades: computers and electronics generally, telecommunications and the Internet, satellites, the aeronautical industry (hence tourism, the largest “service industry”), containerization (hence contemporary trade), computer-controlled machine tools, and a great deal more. Alan Greenspan and others like to orate about how all of this is a tribute to the grand entrepreneurial spirit and consumer choice in free markets. That’s true of the late marketing stage, but far less so in the more significant R&D stage. Much the same is true in the biology-based sectors of industry, though different pretexts are used. The record goes far back, but these mechanisms to sustain the advanced industrial economy became far more significant after World War II.

In brief, the permanent war economy has an economic as well as a purely military function. And both outcomes – incomparable military force and an advanced industrial economy – naturally provide crucial mechanisms for foreign policy planning, much of it geared to ensuring free access to markets and resources for the state-supported corporate sector, constraining rivals, and barring moves towards independent development.

Chowkwanyun: The coup in Haiti occupied headlines for about a month this past spring, but a scan through the major news archives reveals a lack of follow-up stories since, save for the recent minor surge of articles on the US new investigation of Aristide’s alleged corruption. What preliminary interpretations can we make about the general US press coverage of Aristide’s fall from power? And how can we situate what happened in Haiti in historical context?

Chomsky: As press coverage has declined, serious human rights violations increase, a matter of no interest since Washington attained its goals. Previous press coverage kept closely to the officially-determined parameters: Aristide’s corruption and violence in a “failed state”, despite the noble US effort to “restore democracy” in 1994. It would have been hard to find even a bare reference to Washington’s fierce opposition to the Aristide government when it took office in 1990 in Haiti’s first democratic election, breaking the pattern of US support for brutal dictatorship ever since Wilson’s murderous and destructive invasion in 1915; or of the instant support of the Bush I and then Clinton administrations for the vicious coup leaders (extending even to authorization of oil shipments to them and their rich supporters in violation of presidential directives); or of the fact that Clinton’s noble restoration of democracy was conditioned on the requirement that the government must adopt the harsh neoliberal program of the defeated US candidate in the 1990 election, who won fourteen percent of the vote. It was obvious at once that this would have a devastating effect on the economy, as it did. Bush II tightened the stranglehold by barring aid, and pressuring international institutions to do the same, on spurious pretexts, therefore contributing further to the implosion of the society. No less cynical was the contemptuous refusal of France, which preceded Washington as the primary destroyer of Haiti, even to consider Aristide’s entirely legitimate request of repayment of the outrageous indemnity that Haiti was forced to pay for the crime of liberating itself from French tyranny and plunder, the source of much of France’s wealth. All of this was missing, replaced by lamentations about how even our remarkable magnanimity and nobility were insufficient to bring democracy and development to the backward Haitians, though we would now try again, in our naive optimism.

This illustration of abject servility to power is not, regrettably, unique. But the spectacle is particularly disgusting when the world’s most powerful state crushes under its boot, once again, the poorest country in the hemisphere, as it has been doing in one or another way for 200 years, at first in understandable fear of a rebellion that established the first free country of free men right next door to a leading slave state, and on to the present. It is a depressing illustration of how a highly disciplined intellectual class can reframe even the most depraved actions as yet another opportunity for self-adulation.

Chowkwanyun: Recent films and books from establishment liberal circles focus almost entirely on actions of the Bush Administration both abroad (the Iraq venture on false pretenses) and at home (the Patriot Act, for example). Should the analysis incorporate more events than that, and if so, how far back? How sharp a cleave does there really exist between the Clinton years and the current people in the executive branch? Is there more continuity than the recent works are suggesting?

Chomsky: The Bush administration is at the extreme savage and brutal end of a narrow policy spectrum. Accordingly, its actions and policies came under unprecedented criticism in the mainstream, in conservative circles as well. A good illustration is the reaction to the National Security Strategy announced in September 2002, along with the virtual declaration of war against Iraq, and the onset of a highly successful government-media propaganda campaign that drove the frightened population far off the spectrum of world opinion. The NSS was condemned at once in the main establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, as a new “imperial grand strategy” that was likely to cause harm to US interests. Others joined in sharp criticism of the brazen arrogance and incompetence of the planners: Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, and the rest. But the criticism was quite narrow, more concerned with style and implementation than substance. Typical was the reaction of Madeleine Albright, also in Foreign Affairs. Like others, she criticized the Bush planners. She added, correctly, that every president has a similar strategy, but doesn’t smash people in the face with it, antagonizing even allies. Rather, he keeps it in his back pocket to use when needed. She knew of course that the “Clinton doctrine” was even more extreme than the NSS, declaring that the US would resort to force unilaterally if necessary to ensure access to markets and resources, without even the pretexts of “self-defense” conjured up by Bush propagandists and their acolytes. But Clinton presented the doctrine quietly, and was careful to carry out his crimes, which were many, in ways that would be acceptable to allies and could be justified or concealed by elite opinion, including the media.

Continuities are real, and go back long before. After all, policies are largely rooted in institutions, and these are quite stable. But there are also differences, and even small differences can translate into substantial outcomes in a system of enormous power.

Chowkwanyun: Even though day-to-day conditions and structural realities in Latin America are generally worse than those in the United States, political progress in Latin America of the past few years is inspiring, especially given the stacked odds in countries like Brazil. What accounts for these successes? Do you see an opportunity for more solidarity between American activists and counterparts in other countries, and in general, more global approaches to activism?

Chomsky: Brazil is a remarkable and illuminating case. It is instructive to compare the two largest and most important countries of the hemisphere.

In the forthcoming presidential elections in the US, there is a choice: between two candidates who were born to wealth and political power, attended the same elite university, joined the same secret society that instructs members in the style and manners of the rulers, and are able to run because they are funded by largely the same corporate powers. The Public Relations industry, which basically runs the campaigns, makes sure that they keep away from “issues” (except in vague and obscure terms) and focus on “qualities” – “leadership”, “personality”, et cetera. The public is not unaware of its purposeful marginalization. On the eve of the 2000 election, about 75% of the public regarded it as largely meaningless – prior to Florida shenanigans, the Supreme Court, et cetera, which were mostly an elite concern. In 2004, more appears to be at stake and interest is greater, but there is a continuation of the long process of disengagement mainly on the part of poor and working class Americans, who simply do not feel that they are represented. The Harvard University project that monitors these matters currently reports that “the turnout gap between the top and bottom fourth by income is by far the largest among western democracies and has been widening”.

In Brazil, in dramatic contrast, there was an authentic democratic election. The organized public were able to elect their own candidate, a person from their own ranks, despite barriers far higher than in the US: a very repressive state, tremendous inequality and concentration of wealth and media power, extreme hostility of international capital and its institutions. They were able to do so because of decades of serious organizing and activism by very significant popular organizations: the Landless Workers Movement, the Workers Party, unions, and others. These are all lacking in “failed states” with democratic forms that have little in the way of substance, in which we have elections of the kind taking place in November 2004.

It is also striking to compare the US reaction to the election in Brazil today and the election of a moderately populist candidate, with much less support and much less impressive credentials, forty years ago. That deviation from good form led to intervention by the Kennedy administration to organize a military coup, carried out shortly after the election, instituting a neo-Nazi National Security State of extreme brutality, hailed by Washington liberals as a great victory for democracy and freedom. Today nothing like that is considered. Part of the reason is that the activism of the intervening years has led to much more civilized societies in both countries. The US population is not likely to tolerate the unconcealed criminality of the Kennedy and Johnson years, nor would Brazilians easily capitulate. Another reason is that establishment of murderous dictatorships is no longer necessary. It should hardly be a secret that neoliberal mechanisms are well designed to restrict very narrowly the threat of democracy. As long as Brazil accepts them, the elected President must reject the program on which he was elected, and follow the orders of the international financial powers and investors even more rigorously than his predecessor, so as to “establish credibility” with the masters of the world. One of Clinton’s impressive achievements was forging these bonds more firmly, so as to guard wealth and power from the threat that democracy might actually function.

Of course, none of this is graven in stone. In the 1980s, for the first time in the history of Western imperialism, solidarity movements developed in reaction to Reaganite crimes in Central America, which went far beyond protest; thousands of people joined the victims, to help them, and to provide them with some limited protection from the US-run state and mercenary terrorist forces that were ravaging the region. Still more strikingly, they were rooted in mainstream circles, including significant participation from church-based organizations, among them evangelical Christians. These movements have since extended to many other regions, with actions of great courage and integrity, and heroic victims, like Rachel Corrie. Beyond that, for the first time ever, there are really significant international solidarity movements, based mainly in the South, but with increasing participation from the North, drawing from many walks of life and much of the world. Included are the global justice movements (ridiculously called “anti-globalization” movements) that have been meeting in the World Social Forum in Brazil and India, and have spawned regional and local social forums over much of the world. These are the first serious manifestations of the kind of international solidarity that has been the dream of the left and the labor movements since their modern origins. How far such developments can reach we can, of course, never predict. But they are impressive and highly promising.

Bitter class warfare in the West is by and large restricted to the highly class-conscious business sector, which is often quite frank about its objectives and understands very well what its publications call “the hazard facing industrialists in the rising political power of the masses”. But while they have had great success in dominant sectors of power in the US, and other industrial countries, they are no more invulnerable than they have been in moments of comparable triumphalism in the past.

Chowkwanyun: A common trope these days holds that academics are too “liberal”, “leftist”, or “radical”, et cetera. What are your thoughts on this interpretation and on the state of contemporary academia in general?

Chomsky: I have to admit that I have an irrational dislike of the word “trope”, and other postmodern affectations. But overcoming that, this “trope” hardly merits comment. It can stand alongside of the charge that the media are “too liberal”. These charges are not entirely untrue. For quite good reasons, the doctrinal systems try to focus attention on “social and cultural issues”, and in these domains, it is largely true that professionals (academic, media) are “liberal”; that is, they have a profile similar to CEOs. Much the same is true when we shift to the issues that are of major concern to the population, but are systematically excluded from the electoral agenda and largely swept to the side in commentary. Take, for example, the misleadingly named “free trade agreements”. They are supported by a substantial elite consensus, and generally opposed by the public, so much so that critical analysis of them or even information about them has to be largely suppressed, sometimes in remarkable ways, well documented. The business world is well aware of this. Opponents of these investor-rights versions of economic integration have an “ultimate weapon”, the Wall Street Journal lamented: the public is opposed. Therefore various means have to be devised to conceal their nature and implement them without public scrutiny. The same is true of many other issues. It is, for example, widely agreed that a leading domestic problem is escalating costs for health care in the most inefficient system of the industrial world, with far higher per capita expenditures than others and poor outcomes by comparative standards. The reasons are understood by health professionals: privatization, which imposes enormous inefficiencies and costs, and the immense power of the pharmaceutical industry. Polls regularly show strong public support for some form of national health care (eighty percent in the most recent poll I have seen), but when that is even mentioned, the “too-liberal press” dismisses it as “politically impossible” (New York Times). That’s correct: the insurance companies and pharmaceutical industry are opposed, and with the effective erosion of a democratic culture, it therefore doesn’t matter what the population wants. The same is commonly true on international issues. One finds little difference, I think, between the academic world and other sectors of the professional and managerial classes, to the extent that broad generalization is possible.
_____

Merlin Chowkwanyun is a student at Columbia University. His e-mail is mc2028@columbia.edu.

He also hosts a radio show on WBAR 87.9 FM NYC (www.wbar.org).

http://www.counterpunch.org

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

Categories: Uncategorized

>Trust, Then Crucify

2006/10/28 1 comment

>What We Expect Democrats To Do If They Take Congress

by Ted Rall

www.rall.com (October 24 2006)

“A second marriage”, wrote Samuel Johnson, “is the triumph of hope over experience”. Last week I explained that the Beltway politicians running the Democratic Party don’t plan major changes should they win big in the midterm elections. Nancy Pelosi and her fellow neo-nons are so scared of being called weak on national security that they’ll continue to waste billions of dollars and thousands of bodies on Afghanistan and Iraq. There won’t be any investigations of the Bush Administration’s actions over the last six years, much less impeachment hearings.

We have every reason to expect nothing from the Dems. Nothing is exactly what they gave us the last time we put them in charge. If the polls are correct, we’re going to vote for them anyway. One more time: the triumph of hope over experience.

If Democrats retake one or both houses of Congress, it won’t be thanks to their soaring rhetoric or sub-basement ambitions but rather to the millions of Americans who formerly supported the GOP but now reject Bush and his works. “I voted for Bush twice”, a forty-year-old supermarket clerk told columnist Bob Herbert in South Bend, Indiana, a conservative stronghold. “Now I just want him gone”.

Independent voters, key to a right-wing surge that began with Ronald Reagan’s win in 1980, are deserting the Republican Party. Two out of three plan to go Democratic this year, finds the latest Washington Post – ABC News poll. Swing voters cite Iraq as their primary concern, more than the economy, by a widening margin. But the DC Democrats shouldn’t take their newfound indie supporters for granted.

“About half of those independents saying they plan to vote Democratic in their district said they were doing so primarily to vote against the Republican candidate rather than affirmatively in support of the Democratic candidate”, found the Post poll. “Just 22 percent of independents voting for Democrats are doing so ‘very enthusiastically'”.

Current modeling projections depict the Senate results as a toss-up and the House of Representatives almost certainly going Democratic. If, as seems likely, Democrats take the House, independents will expect – and have the right to expect – their Democratic-majority Congress to pull out all the stops in the fight to bring an end to the Bushists’ six-year reign of error.

Among the top items the wish list of pro-Democratic voters (yellow-dog diehards and newfound indies alike):

Get Out of Iraq Now: Bob Corker, a Republican running a notably dirty campaign for Senate in Tennessee, favors “break[ing] down this discussion that’s either a ‘cut and run’ strategy or a ‘stay the course’ strategy. Somewhere in between, we’ve got to figure out new ways of solving the problems that we have in Iraq.” But “in between” is pure fantasy. 71 percent of Iraqis want us out of Iraq in less than a year. Why wait to pull out when the only result will be more dead and wounded?

Roll Back the Police State: Most pundits think Republicans are unbeatable on the “war on terrorism”. They’re wrong. More Americans trust Democrats to fight terrorists than Republicans, by a six-point margin in the latest Newsweek poll – 47 to 41 percent.

People understand that the Bush Administration doesn’t care about fighting terrorists. Instead of searching for Osama they’ve exploited fear of another 9/11 to strip away the rights and freedoms that define America. Most recently, Bush signed a bizarre “Military Commissions Act” (MCA) that legalizes torture and allows the president or secretary of defense to throw any American citizen into prison without cause or charging him with a crime.

“The legislation signed by the president today violates basic principles and values of our constitutional system of government”, said Democratic senator Russ Feingold. “It allows the government to seize individuals on American soil and detain them indefinitely, with no opportunity to challenge their detention in court. We look back on this day as a stain on our nation’s history.”

Nice speech. But voters want Democrats to do more than talk next spring if they regain majority control. All of the Bush-era attacks on freedom and decency must go: the MCA, Detainee Treatment Act, Terrorist Surveillance Program Act legalizing spying on our phone calls and e-mail without a warrant, and the USA-Patriot Act. Concentration camps at Guanta’namo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib, as well as the CIA’s “secret prisons” in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and the vile program of “extraordinary renditions” (torture outsourcing) should be closed at once.

Impeach Bush. I was one of the few lefties to say it at the time: Bill Clinton deserved to be impeached. He lied under oath and he lied to the American people. George W Bush makes Clinton look like a rank amateur. He stole two presidential elections, at least in part by hiring thugs to prevent black people from voting. He repeatedly told lies to deceive the public into fighting a disastrous, losing war. It’s late and it’s insufficient punishment, but if Bush doesn’t merit impeachment, who does?

This year, casting your vote for a Democrat isn’t enough to end the neo-fascist nightmare. The real work begins next spring, if and when Democrats assume control of Congress. It’s up to us to hold them accountable – and vote them out if they let us down.

_____

Ted Rall is the author of the new book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East? (Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing, 2006), an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America’s next big foreign policy challenge.

Copyright (c) 2006 Ted Rall

http://www.uexpress.com/tedrall/

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

Categories: Uncategorized

>The Cult of the Heroic Animal

>The Disneyfication of war allows us to ignore its real savagery

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (October 24 2006)

www.monbiot.com

Most of our memorials sentimentalise war. Few commemorate the horror. But now we have a new category, whose purpose seems to be to trivialise it.

Last week a vast bronze sculpture was unveiled in Montrose on the east coast of Scotland by Prince Andrew. It depicts a hero of the second world war, wearing a seaman’s cap, who was decorated with “the equivalent of the George Cross”. It’s a bit late, perhaps, but otherwise unsurprising – until I tell you that the hero was a dog. The statue depicts a St Bernard called Bamse, which reputedly rescued two Norwegian sailors. It is the latest manifestation of the new Cult of the Heroic Animal.

The Imperial War Museum is currently running an exhibition called “The Animals’ War”. It features stuffed mascots, tales of the “desperate plight” of 200 animals trapped by the fighting in Iraq, and photos of dogs wearing gas masks. It tells us about the “PDSA Dicken Medal – the Animals’ Victoria Cross”, which has been awarded to 23 dogs, 32 pigeons, three horses and one cat for “acts of conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in wartime”. The museum resounds with cries of “aaah!” and “how sweet!”. War is now cute.

Last year, Disney released an animation called Valiant, about the heroics of a group of messenger pigeons in World War Two. In 2004, a vast sculpture was unveiled by Princes Anne in Park Lane in London, called “Animals at War”. It cost GBP 1.5 million {1}, and it is dedicated “to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied Forces in wars and campaigns throughout time … From the pigeon to the elephant they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom. Their contribution must never be forgotten.” In Liverpool there are now two statues commemorating a dog – Jet – used to find victims of air raids in the Second World War {2}.

I have no objection to remembering the suffering of animals. If someone started a subscription for a statue of a battery pig or a broiler chicken (conveniently forgotten by almost everyone) I might even contribute. But the emphasis given to animals’ suffering in war suggests a failure to acknowledge the suffering of human beings. The tableau in Park Lane carries the justifying motto “They had no choice”. Nor did the civilians killed in Iraq, the millions of women raped over the centuries by soldiers, or the colonial subjects who died of famine or disease in British concentration camps. You would scour this country in vain for a monument to any of them {3}.

Bamse has been dead for 62 years. Both the Park Lane memorial and the exhibition at the Imperial War Museum were inspired by a book by Jilly Cooper – the patron saint of English bourgeois sentiment – called Animals in War {4,5}. But it was first published in 1983. It is only since the invasion of Iraq that this disneyfication of war seems to have become a major industry.

Animals have featured in war memorials for at least four thousand years. But they have, for the most part, been used as representations of human dominance and courage. The tableau in Park Lane, depicting a weary shire horse, two exhausted pack mules and an Irish setter seeking his master, could almost be a response to Landseer’s insouciant lions in Trafalgar Square. If these beasts were conceived, like his, with anthropomorphic intent, they would represent the mute, trudging foot soldiers of the imperial army, prey to Trafalgar Square’s top predators. The inscription might have read “What passing-bells for these who die like cattle?” But they weren’t. No metaphor is intended here; we are asked to concentrate on the suffering of the animals, not the infantry.

The monument has an interesting list of sponsors. Alongside the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs’ Home, the Household Cavalry and the Amalgamation of Racing Pigeons is an odd collection of industrialists. There’s Sir Anthony Bamford, who runs JCB and who was exposed a few days ago as the president of the Midlands Industrial Council (MIC), which has donated almost GBP 1 million to the Conservative Party {6}. The Labour Party accuses the MIC of exploiting a loophole in electoral laws, which oblige donors to reveal their identity. There’s Lord Ballyedmond, who, both directly and through his company Norbrook Laboratories, gave GBP 1.1 million to the Tories in 2001 {7}. They are joined by the PR company Spa Way (best known for representing the “private security contractor” Tim Spicer); the late property developer and former Conservative councillor Sir Stanley Clarke; and Eva and Kirsten Rausing, the niece and daughter-in-law of the Swedish industrialist Hans Rausing, whose tax affairs have caused some controversy here {8}, and who has donated GBP 343,000 to the British Conservative party {9}.

Perhaps the most interesting name on the list is William Farish III. An old friend of the Bush family’s, he is a major donor to the Republican Party and was US ambassador to London between 2001 and 2004. One of his tasks here was justifying the war with Iraq. He inherited much of his money from his grandfather, the Texan oil millionaire William Farish II.

In 1942, William Farish II pleaded “no contest” to charges of criminal conspiracy with the Nazis {10}, and was denounced by Senator Harry Truman for behaviour which “approaches treason” {11}. Through the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, of which he was president, he was alleged to have run a cartel with the German company IG Farben {12}. Farben manufactured Zyklon B, the poison used in the gas chambers, and ran a plant using slave labour at Auschwitz. Among other deals, William Farish II had agreed to share patents for making synthetic gasoline and artificial rubber with Farben, while withholding them from the US Navy {13}. He was fined and died soon afterwards. His son died a few weeks later in an air accident, leaving the family fortune to William Farish III.

So what is going on? What is so appealing about these memorials to the members of the royal family who agreed to unveil them, to the crowds who have packed the new exhibition, and to the rightwing multi-millionaires who financed the giant tableau? Why, when the war we started in Iraq appears to have killed hundreds of thousands of human beings, have we become obsessed by the non-human victims of conflict?

I’m not sure, but the last panel in the museum’s exhibition offers a possible explanation. It reproduces the inscription on a monument erected by the British in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, raised to commemorate “the animals that died in the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902”. This was a war of almost unprecedented brutality, in which the British beat the Boers by burning down their homes and herding them into the world’s first large-scale concentration camps, where over 40,000 people died. “The greatness of a nation”, the inscription says, “consists not so much in the number of its people or the extent of its territory as in the extent and justice of its compassion”.

This is a worthy index, on which Britain would have been placed close to the bottom; unless we were judged by our compassion – or sentiment – for animals. These monuments, perhaps, permit us to see ourselves as kind people, even as unspeakable acts are commited on our behalf.
_____

George Monbiot has launched a new website – www.turnuptheheat.org.


References:

1. Carol Phillips, November 2004. Animals in War: They Had No Choice. Horse and Hound magazine.

2. See http://www.ukniwm.org.uk/server/show/conMemorial.52653/fromUkniwmSearch/1 and http://www.ukniwm.org.uk/server/show/conMemorial.15397/fromUkniwmSearch/1

3. The UK National Inventory of War Memorials catalogues the 53,000 known war memorials in the United Kingdom. Nothing in these categories is listed.

4. Lizzie Guilfoyle, November 2004. The Animals in War Memorial. http://www.indielondon.co.uk/events/att_animals_warmemorial.html

5. Eg Imperial War Museum, 11th July 2006. Life-Saving 7/7 Police Dog Attends Launch of The Animals’ War Exhibition. http://www.iwm.org.uk/server/show/ConWebDoc.4104

6. Robert Winnett and Holly Watt, 15th October 2006. Tories forced to name club of millionaire supporters. The Sunday Times.

7. The Electoral Commission, 2001. http://politics.guardian.co.uk/conservatives/tables/0,,641830,00.html

8. Nick Davies, 14th October 2002. Tax avoiders beat off Brown’s attack. The Guardian.

9. Greg Hurst and Catherine Boyle, 22nd August 2006. Wealthy backers put Conservatives on the defensive. The Times.

10. William Lowther, 18th February 2001. US Ambassador’s wealth built on deal with Nazis. The Mail on Sunday.

11. Webster Griffin Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin, 1991. George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography. Executive Intelligence Review. Extract available at http://www.padrak.com/alt/BUSHBOOK_1.html#Nazi_Commerce

12. ibid.

13. William Lowther, ibid.

Copyright (c) 2006 Monbiot.com

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/10/24/the-cult-of-the-heroic-animal/#more-1025

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

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>The Liberals Answer Tony Judt’s "Useful Idiots" Charge

>by Edward Herman

www.zmag.org (October 23 2006)

Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin have replied to Tony Judt’s “Bush’s Useful Idiots … The Strange Death of Liberal America” (London Review of Books, September 21 2006) {1}, in a piece entitled “We Answer to the Name of Liberals” (American Prospect, Web Exclusive, October 18 2006) {2}. Many liberal signatories have added their names to this reply {3}.

What in particular elicited this reply was Judt’s statement that liberals have “acquiesced in President Bush’s catastrophic foreign policy”, which Ackerman-Gitlin say is as nonsensical as the rightwing claim that liberals are “stooges for Osama bin Laden”. Contrary to Judt, claim Ackerman-Gitlin, “most” liberals have “stayed the course … [and] consistently and publicly repudiated the ruinous policies of the Bush administration”, adhering firmly to the “liberal principles” Bush has repudiated. This short comment examines that claim.

First, Ackerman-Gitlin say that “We have all opposed the Iraq war as illegal, unwise and destructive of America’s moral standing. This war fueled, and continues to fuel, jihadis whose commitment to horrific, unjustifiable violence was amply demonstrated by the September 11 attacks …” It should be noted that the “all” who have signed on here (through October 23rd) as opposing the war does not include a large number of prominent liberals, including Paul Berman, David Corn, George Packer, Jean Beth Elshtain, Michael Walzer, Marc Cooper, Peter Beinart, Leon Wieseltier, David Remnick, Jacob Weisberg, and Michael Berube, among others.

There is also the question of the form and intensity of opposition to the war. Quite a few liberals, including Todd Gitlin, distanced themselves from the antiwar protests that took place before the war on the grounds of their improper leadership (ANSWER), and spent a great deal of time on, and got excellent mainstream media coverage of, their criticisms of the protests. In an article on “The Liberal Quandry Over Iraq”, in the New York Times Magazine of December 8 2002, George Packer stressed the “serious liability” of the ongoing antiwar protest “that will just about guarantee its impotence”. It is controlled by “the farthest reaches of the American Left”, people who don’t feel it necessary to explain how “to keep this mass murderer [Packer means Saddam, not Bush] and his weapons in check.” Packer concludes that “This is not a constructive liberal antiwar movement”. His liberal interviewees were also in a quandary and agreed with Packer on the sorry state of the organized war opposition. Their opposition to the war, in short, was compromised at best.

Note also that Ackerman-Gitlin don’t assert that the Iraq war itself represented “horrific, unjustifiable violence”; that language is confined to the jihadis; the US war is merely “unwise”. Ackerman-Gitlin’s stress is on the feedback effects of the war on “Americans and our allies”, not on the Iraqi victims of aggression (a word Ackerman-Gitlin carefully avoids). Wouldn’t liberal principles demand that violence flowing from an aggression in violation of the UN Charter get a more forceful condemnation, a willingness to use a clearly applicable word, and explicit mention of the gross violation of international law?

Second, as regards the Middle East, Ackerman-Gitlin state that “We believe that the state of Israel has the fundamental right to exist, free of military assault, within secure borders close to those of 1967”, and that the US government has a special responsibility to achieve peace. “Fundamental right to exist” as a Jewish state with racist laws, or to be free from aggression? Tony Judt has been accused of supporting opponents of Israel’s “right to exist” in his questioning the racist base of Israeli society and policy. The ambiguous use of this language by Ackerman-Gitlin feeds into this criticism of Judt by the defenders of racist principles. The notion that Israel faces any threat to its existence otherwise is not compelling, although the threats of the militarized Israeli state to Palestinian national existence and to the existence of a fragile state like Lebanon are very real.

Israel has been ethnically cleansing Palestinians, assaulting them with their vastly superior military power, building a racist society, and violating international law and International Court decisions for decades, yet instead of focusing on the primary victims Ackerman-Gitlin express concern only for the oppressors. There is not a word about any Palestinian rights to be free of military assault, land and water theft, and racist discrimination. This reflects the deep bias built into the US political system and culture, but it is in fundamental conflict with liberal principles of equality and humanity and hostility to racism.

Note also that Ackerman-Gitlin criticize only the Bush policies toward Israel and Palestine, not that of the Clinton and earlier US administrations, which have all been supportive of Israeli ethnic cleansing and racism, and via their unstinting military and diplomatic support of Israel have been co-responsible for the many-decades-long failure to implement an international consensus on the solution. Despite this collusion, Ackerman-Gitlin say that the United States “has a special responsibility toward achieving a lasting Middle East peace”. Is it consistent with liberal principles to pretend that the United States is not part of the problem, and to avoid explicit mention of the fact that the solution will require a turnabout in US thinking that does not, as this liberal statement does, focus first on Israeli interests, and that is willing to confront interest group power shaping US policy?

Third, the “liberal answer” stresses that although “war must be a last resort”, the use of force is sometimes justified, as in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, wars that the signers explicitly approve. However, the wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan were carried out in straightforward violation of the UN Charter (see Article 2, Chapter I, Charter of the United Nations, June 1945) {4}, so that insofar as liberal principles call for adherence to law, Ackerman-Gitlin and their associates have supported the violation of those principles in these cases. Furthermore, both of these wars helped establish an assumed right on the part of US leaders to resort to violence at their own discretion, and liberal support for these illegal wars was therefore an important feature of the breakdown of a traditional barrier to violence. Contrary to Ackerman-Gitlin’s claims, this support of the use of force and illegality contributed to making Bush’s “ruinous policies” acceptable.

The Ackerman-Gitlin notion that in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan wars were “a last resort” rests on a deep misunderstanding of recent history. In Bosnia, the United States sabotaged the important Lisbon agreement of 1992 that would have ended the Bosnian war early, it never sought any settlement in Kosovo and used the Rambouillet Conference solely to firm up arrangements for war as the Serbs “needed a little bombing”, and its attack on Afghanistan was vengeance-driven, illegal, and was hardly designed to capture bin Laden. The notion that any of these three wars was either a “last resort” or “humanitarian intervention” rests on plain ignorance and a will to believe (for compelling evidence, see Bosnian war negotiator Lord David Owen’s Balkan Odyssey [Harcourt Brace: 1995], and Canadian law professor Michael Mandel’s How America Gets Away With Murder [Pluto press: 2004]).

The “liberal answer” claims next that Bush’s “emphatic reliance on military intervention is illegitimate and counterproductive”, it “degrades the national defense”, and ignores the “imperative necessity of building an international order that peacefully addresses the aspirations of rising power in Asia and Latin America”. But Ackerman-Gitlin do not challenge the immense military budget of the United States, although opposition to the “tyranny of armaments” is featured in L T Hobhouse’s classic Liberalism (1911) {5}, and the threat of militarism to liberal principles should be obvious. Ackerman-Gitlin fail to recognize that military interventions flow from a gigantic military establishment, and they would surely never quote Madeleine Albright’s question to Colin Powell: “What’s the point of having this superb military … if we can’t use it?” But the US political economy is now built on an immense military establishment, with US military expenditures running at about half of the global war-making total, and with both the Democrats and Republicans supporting it, so Ackerman-Gitlin and their colleagues take it as a given also, in violation of basic liberal principles.

One of the signers of the Ackerman-Gitlin statement, Michael Tomasky, executive editor of The American Prospect, has explained that the Democrats need to prove themselves on national security by vigorously supporting “democracy promotion” as a national objective (in his chapter in George Packer, The Fight Is For Democracy [Harper Perennial: 2003]). Presumably in the hands of the Democrats there will be no “misapplications” in the use of force, and the Albright statement suggestive of a ready willingness to use force can be ignored. This will help justify the built-in vast military budget, and will provide a cover for an imperial projection of power under proper auspices (Bush is keen on democracy promotion also, but tends to misapplications). So the power structure dictates an interventionary foreign policy and the problem for the liberals is to construct their own distinctive rationale for interventionism that is presumably compatible with liberal values and will not be “a prescription for empire”. (See my “George Packer and the Struggle to Support Imperialism”, ZNet Commentary, January 28 2005) {6}

Ackerman-Gitlin say that “The misapplication of military power also imperils American freedom at home”. Presumably its approved application – approved by Ackerman-Gitlin – poses no threat to American freedom. But the “good guys” (the Democrats) are not always in power, and they are always under pressure to show that they are not weak on “security”, so that, contrary to Ackerman-Gitlin and Tomasky, they can “misapply” military power as often as the Republicans (a Democrat escalated the Vietnam War in 1962 and a successor Democrat got us into that war on a full scale in 1965).

In short, an imperial and militarized state will use its military power relentlessly, and the feedback effects of this chronic warfare are inevitably going to entail encroachments on domestic freedom. But Ackerman-Gitlin can’t confront this deeper relationship and challenge militarism and the imperial state. They adapt to it, and in the process “liberal principles” are compromised and thrust aside, and the liberals do in fact serve as the imperial state’s “useful idiots”.

Notes

{1} http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n18/judt01_.html

{2} http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=12124

{3} http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=12123

{4} http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/chapter1.htm

{5} http://socserv2.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/hobhouse/liberalism.pdf

(6) http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2005-01/28herman.cfm

http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2006-10/23herman.cfm

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

Categories: Uncategorized

>Fighting Back? Don’t Count On It!

>Win or Lose, Democrats Plan Another Wimp-Out

by Ted Rall

www.rall.com (October 17 2006)

If you’re a registered Democrat like me, you’re getting deluged with junk mail, both paper and electronic. The message is the same it was two years ago and four years ago: STOP THE REPUBLICANS! HELP US FIGHT BACK! (Send us money!) If Dick Morris, a Republican who is the most brilliant pollster alive, is right, the plea is working: he predicts a Democratic sweep of both the House and the Senate in November’s midterm elections.

The question is: should Democratic voters care? After all, the last time the Democratic Party controlled Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court, there was precious little fighting back. Reagan-era and Bush 41-era budget cuts in education and social programs remained in force under President Clinton, whose major legislative achievements – welfare reform and the NAFTA and WTO free trade deals – were Republican-sponsored.

According to the October fundraising mailers, Democratic voters and a lot of independents and Republicans are MAD AS HELL AND NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE! They’re angry about the endless, costly and losing wars against Iraq and Afghanistan while Osama bin Laden releases videos more often than Britney. They’re disgusted at corrupt and perverted Congressmen. They’re sick and tired of hearing Republicans talk up the economy when gas is $2.50 a gallon, they can’t sell their houses or find a decent job. But should they trust the Democratic Party to articulate their rage?

Democrats, reports The New York Times, have taken note of polls that show that 66 percent of Americans think we’re losing in Iraq (duh) and that it’s Bush’s fault (double duh). Democratic challengers “have seized on Iraq as a central issue. In debates and in speeches, [Congressional and Senatorial] candidates are pummeling Republicans with accusations of a failed war.”

If Republican Congressmen hadn’t caused the deaths of so many people, it would almost be possible to feel sorry for them. A recent Johns Hopkins University study estimates that US forces have thus far killed 600,000 Iraqis since the March 2003 invasion. (Without offering a specific critique of the survey’s statistical methodology or offering a number of his own, Bush said he disagreed with the estimate. But with over a hundred bodies a day turning up bound and tortured to death in the streets of Baghdad alone, the number seems reasonable.) The lives of nearly 2,800 US troops and the staggering sum of $250 billion have been wasted. Under these circumstances “stay the course” – the sole Republican strategy since the beginning – is hardly a winning sales pitch.

And it’s all they have. “We can’t afford to leave until the job is finished”, says GOP strategist Russ Scriefer. “Stay the course means keep doing what you’re doing”, Bush stumbled again last week. “My attitude is, don’t do what you’re doing if it’s not working – change. Stay the course also means don’t leave before the job is done. We’re going to get the job done in Iraq.”

The trouble for Bush and his party is that they’ve been saying that for three years. Meanwhile, things in Iraq have gotten worse. “Everything’s being discolored by people’s view of the war and what’s going on in Iraq, and as a result, you know, all of our [poll] numbers look pretty bad”, House majority leader John Boehner of Ohio told Fox News. “And there’s no question that there’s a jet stream in our face”.

So Democratic sharks are circling. They’re running attack ads that mock Republicans for wanting to “stay the course” while displaying gruesome footage of car bombings and blood-splattered bodies. “For the first time in modern memory”, says Matt Bennett of the centrist Democratic group Third Way, “Democrats are actually on the offensive when it comes to national security”.

Of course, Democrats share the blame for those 600,000 slaughtered Iraqis. When Bush’s Iraq war resolution came up for a vote in October 2002, Democrats in the Senate voted yes, 29 to 21. Even worse, they’ve signed onto the “stay the course” cult. As recently as June 2006, 42 House Democrats crossed party lines to vote against a measure that called for an end to the war. It’s unlikely that even a “Democratic Revolution” in both houses of Congress would bring a conclusion to the bloodshed any time soon. The last thing victorious Dems would want to do two years before a presidential election is to open themselves to attacks for “cutting and running”.

If the Democrats were to recapture control of the House of Representatives, they would theoretically be able to hold George W Bush accountable for lying to Congress and the American people about, among other things, Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and tapping Americans’ telephones and reading their email. But Republicans who might be feeling guilty about felonious or even treasonous acts needn’t worry about getting frog-marched: impeachment investigations are “off the table”, assures minority leader and lead sell-out Nancy Pelosi. Republican candidates “are in such desperate shape [in the polls]”, said her spokesman, “we don’t want to give them anything to grab on to”.

You may be mad as hell, but – even if Democrats win – they’re going to take it evermore.

_____

Ted Rall is the author of the new book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East? (Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing, 2006), an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America’s next big foreign policy challenge.

Copyright (c) 2006 Ted Rall

http://www.uexpress.com/tedrall/

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

Categories: Uncategorized

>Putting the State on Trial

2006/10/25 1 comment

>Protesters who have damaged military equipment are walking away from the dock

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (October 17 2006)

www.Monbiot.com

In the early hours, two days before the attack on Iraq began, two men in their thirties, Phil Pritchard and Toby Olditch, cut through the fence surrounding the air base at Fairford in Gloucestershire and made their way towards the B52 bombers which were stationed there. The planes belonged to the US air force. The trespassers were caught by guards and found to be carrying tools and paint {1}. They confessed that they were seeking to disable the planes, in order to prevent war crimes from being committed. This year they were tried on charges of conspiracy to commit criminal damage, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years. Last week, after long deliberations, the jury failed to reach a verdict.

The same thing happened a month ago. Two other activists – Margaret Jones and Paul Milling – had entered the same RAF base and smashed up over twenty of the vehicles used to load bombs onto the B52s. The charges were the same, and again the jury failed to agree {2}. In both cases the defendants claimed to be putting the state on trial. If I were in government, I would be starting to feel uneasy.

The defendants had tried to argue in court that the entire war against Iraq was a crime of aggression. But in March this year the Law Lords ruled that they could not use this defence: while aggression by the state is a crime under international law, it is not a crime under domestic law {3}. But they were allowed to show that they were seeking to prevent specific war crimes from being committed – principally the release by the B52s of cluster bombs and munitions tipped with depleted uranium.

They cited section five of the 1971 Criminal Damage Act, which provides lawful excuse for damaging property if that action prevents property belonging to other people from being damaged, and section three of the 1967 Criminal Law Act, which states that “a person may use such force as is reasonable in the prevention of a crime”. In summing up, the judge told the jurors that using weapons “with an adverse effect on civilian populations which is disproportionate to the need to achieve the military objective” {4} is a war crime. The defendants are likely to be tried again next year.

While these non-verdicts are as far as the defence of lawful excuse for impeding the Iraq war has progressed in the UK, in Ireland and Germany the courts have made decisions – scarcely reported over here – whose implications are momentous. In July, five peace campaigners were acquitted after using an axe and hammers to cause $2.5 million worth of damage to a plane belonging to the US Navy. When they attacked it, in February 2003, it had been refuelling at Shannon airport on its way to Kuwait, where it would deliver supplies to be used in the impending war. The jury decided that the five saboteurs were acting lawfully {5}.

This summer, the German Federal Administrative Court threw out the charge of insubordination against a major in the German army. He had refused to obey an order which, he believed, would implicate him in the invasion of Iraq. The judges determined that the UN Charter permits a state to go to war in only two circumstances: in self-defence and when it has been authorised to do by the UN Security Council. The states attacking Iraq, they ruled, had no such licence. Resolution 1441, which was used by the British and US governments to justify the invasion, contained no authorisation. The war could be considered an act of aggression {6}.

There is no prospect that the British prime minister could be put on trial for war crimes in this country (though as the international lawyer Philippe Sands points out, there is a chance that he could be arrested and tried elsewhere) {7}. Even so, the government appears to find these legal processes profoundly threatening.

When the Fairford protesters took their request to challenge the legality of the war to the court of appeal, Sir Michael Jay, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, submitted a witness statement which seems to contain a note of official panic. “It would be prejudicial to the national interest and to the conduct of the Government’s foreign policy if the English courts were to express opinions on questions of international law concerning the use of force … which might differ from those expressed by the Government”. Such an opinion “would inevitably weaken the Government’s hand in its negotiations with other States. Allied States, which have agreed with and supported the United Kingdom’s views on the legality of the use of force, could regard such a step as tending to undermine their own position.” {8}

It doesn’t seem to matter how many journalists, protesters or even lawyers point out that the British government had no legal case for attacking Iraq, that the Attorney General’s official justification was risible and that Blair’s arguments were mendacious. As long as the government has a majority in parliament, the support of much of the press and an army of spin doctors constantly weaving and re-weaving its story, it can shrug off these attacks. It can insist, with some success, that we “move on” from Iraq. But an official verdict, handed down by a court, is another matter. If a ruling like that of the German Federal Administrative Court were made over here, it could be devastating for Blair and his ministers.

The prosecutors have lost before. In 1999, a sheriff (a junior Scottish judge) at the court in Greenock instructed the jury to acquit three women who had boarded a Trident submarine testing station on Loch Goil and thrown its computers into the sea. They had argued that the deployment of the nuclear weapons the submarines carried contravened international law. The sheriff said she could not “conclude definitively” whether or not this was true, but that she had “heard nothing which would make it seem to me that the accused acted with criminal intent” {9}. The court of session in Edinburgh later overturned her ruling. Now campaigners against nuclear weapons will be mounting further legal challenges, as they try to sustain a continuous peaceful blockade of the Trident base at Faslane for a year (see www.faslane365.org ).

In 1996, four women were acquitted of conspiracy and criminal damage after disabling a Hawk jet which was due to be sold by BAE to the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. They argued that they were using reasonable force to prevent crimes of genocide that the Indonesian government was committing in East Timor {10}. Their acquittal might have helped persuade Robin Cook to seek to introduce an “ethical dimension” to foreign policy in 1997 (he was, as we now know, thwarted by Blair).

It is true that such verdicts (or non-verdicts) impose no legal obligations on the government. They do not in themselves demonstrate that its ministers are guilty of war crimes. But every time the prosecution fails to secure a conviction, the state’s authority to take decisions which contravene international law is weakened. These cases cannot reverse the hideous consequences of the crime of aggression (the “supreme international crime”, according to the Nuremberg tribunals) that Mr Blair and Mr Bush committed in Iraq. But they do make it harder to repeat.
_____

George Monbiot’s book Heat: how to stop the planet burning is published by Penguin.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. See http://www.b52two.blogspot.com/

2. See http://www.bristol.indymedia.org/newswire.php?story_id=25379

3. House of Lords, 29th March 2006. Judgments – R v. Jones (Appellant).

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldjudgmt/jd060329/jones-1.htm

4. See http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=35337841&postID=116049609842175978&quickEdit=true

5. Indymedia Ireland, 25th July 2006. Not Guilty. The Pitstop Ploughshares All Acquitted on All Charges. http://www.indymedia.ie/article/77460

6. Justus Leicht, 27th September 2005. German court declares Iraq war violated international law http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/sep2005/iraq-s27.shtml

7. John Crace, 14th February 2006. Philippe Sands: Weapon of mass instruction. The Guardian

8. Sir Michael Hastings Jay, 29th June 2004. Witness Statement: R v Jones and Milling, Olditch and Pritchard, Richards. http://www.b52two.org/SirMichealJayWitnessstatement290604.pdf

9. See http://www.tridentploughshares.org/article1080

10. George Monbiot, 30th July 1996. Hawks and Doves. The Guardian http://www.monbiot.com/archives/1996/07/30/hawks-and-doves/

Copyright (c) 2006 Monbiot.com

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/10/19/putting-the-state-on-trial/#more-1020

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

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