Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Proportionality, theme of the day: Gaza, Iraq, and the Civil MCT.

The situation in Gaza is very sad. We will be entering the new year with the situation in the Middle East no closer to resolution. For every Israeli killed by a Hamas missile, 100 Palestinians have died. Many further are wounded, and have no access to humanitarian aid.

Indeed, because of the blockades around Gaza, no-one can get in and no fuel, food, medical supplies, trade, or indeed anything else can get in. People lie dying and destitute in a ghetto situation. We complain of the economic crisis over here, but any economic life has been at a standstill for a long time in the Gaza strip.

Discussions on the subject of the middle east are the sort of thing that is best avoided in polite conversation, fraught with sensitivity and difficulty as it is. But this should not mean that the plight of innocent people should be forgotten.

International opinion is split on what the eventual solution should be. There seems to be some sort of consensus that current Israeli strikes are out of proportion, and it is massively objectionable that one of their stated aims is to rebuilt the image of the Israeli army after its surprise defeat by Hezbollah.

Whatever your opinion on the rights and wrongs of the actions of each side, international law is of assistance on these points:

- the taking of land during time of war is contrary to the well established rules of war. All lands taken in the 1968 war were taken in contravention of international law, therefore and it follows that settlement on these lands is unlawful.

- By a 14 to 1 one decision, the ICJ ruled on the illegality of the Wall. Preventing access to food, fuel, and movement of people in Gaza is fundamentally objectionable.
(The ICJ also found that compensation needed to be paid for damage done by construction of the wall, but clearly long term damage such as the total destruction of the Palestinian economy is not likely to be compensated for).

- States are allowed to act in defense of their land, and people under International law. Thanks to the actions of the US, the UK, and Israel itself there is even a developing principle of 'pre-emptive self defence' in international law. However, proportionality is key. A death toll of 100 to 1, and firing directly into civilian properties and densely populated areas must be in contravention of the protective principles.

People often get caught up in saying, a two state solution must be found as if that is the end to a discussion on this matter. Surely that's obvious - no-one really considers that you can wipe Israel off the map, despite hyperbole from the likes of Iran. Similarly, those uber-Zionists who wish to return to Biblical borders and refer to the land of Judea instead of talking about Gaza, and Lebanon must be considered nuts. Obviously, a two-state solution must be found - but international law takes us pretty far in delimiting where we should go, if only people would pay it some attention. Clear the settled lands, stop blockades, compensate people for lands taken and damage done- and then maybe we will start to see fewer civilians dying.


Another sad mess in the Middle East is Iraq, and it is expected that 2009 will see the end of a British presence in Iraq. I heard a comment on the radio that by then the Iraq war will have lasted longer than WWII. And yet, have we felt like a country at war?

In one of my bouts of random Wiki-searching yesterday I came upon a page on Lynndie England , who was the female soldier seem in those pictures of torture and mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. She ended up serving 521 days, and is now free.

This seems like a very short amount of time for the crimes she originally plead guilty to. She had pleaded guilty to several offences, and was looking at a sentence of more like 11-16 years, but this was 'tossed out' when it was found that she didn't realise that the "actions were wrong".

I have a couple of comments about this. Firstly, isn't it a basic principle of law that ignorance is no defence? Second, I seem to recall that there were a couple of deaths at Abu Ghraib, and several instances of what we would call GBH and ABH. In the states which carry the death penalty, torture or other felonies (such as Grevious Bodily Harm or rape) are aggravating factors which render murder death eligible. I'm not suggesting that she actually murdered any inmates, but it does seem that these soldiers were involved in at a minimum the negligent deaths of inmates. If memory serves me right, where someone dies as a result of intentional GBH that's murder as well, is it not?
In my usual round-about way, the point I'm trying to make is that had she committed these crimes in a civilian context and been sentenced in a civilian court it is hard to see how she would be in possession of her liberty today.

This contrasts well with the situation of the chap who threw his shoes at Bush - and is likely to be behind bars for a lot longer. The legal systems of both countries seem to have messed up monumentally.


Finally, having just about finished with the eating of various poultry, mounds of chocolate coins and shinily wrapped sweets, my mind must now turn to doing some actual work. The Civil MCT is in a week, and the manual must be memorised by then. Only 350 odd pages, easy peasy! Dull, mind you.

Happy New Year to all!


Anonymous said...


please look up the senate armed forces executive memo about its findings about detainee abuse (I'd attach it here, but not sure if I can).

Lynn was not involved with any touching of detainees. Although the pictures were in very bad taste, these soldiers were simply following the orders of their chain of command. Read the last paragraph of their findings in which they found that what happened at Abu Ghraib was not the work of a "few bad apples" but were the sanctioned interrogation techniques approved by Rumfeld.

It is time for folks to stop pointing fingers at Lynn. She was simply the poster child of the Rumsfeld-Cheney group - yet they get to retire in luxury while she lives her life in a broken down single-wide trailer. Look at the true villans and ask yourself why do they get to go free?

Anonymous said...

ps - Lynn was not involved with torture - that was Graner. Yes, there were detainees killed at Abu Ghraib - but not at the hands of the reservists, but at the hands of the CIA and civilian contracted tortueres. More will come out about all of this, but please, please go to the following link - it's not an easy read, but if you want to skip to the end - read the last finding:

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I would leave my name, but you will hear more about Ms. England very soon in the news. She has taken abuse for far too long. People need to read this report and DEMAND that the true war criminals be held accountable. Believe me, I know, what kind of hell she has to live with. She did not get off easy and her only crime was to stand in those pictures - something the government wanted done as they knew it was offensive to Arab men. Lynn would harm no one. How many 20 year olds do you know who have done dumb ass things, never were caught, but were able to go on with their lives? Even Graner, who was the ringleader of all this, and Lynn's then boyfriend, protector, and superior (and father of her child which he refuses to acknowledge) does not deserve what is happening to him. He was following orders as well, in fact he was congratulated by his superiors. In addition, this quote taken from the criminal investigation the military conducted after the pictures came to light prove that this practice was well in place before the arrival of the 372nd:
"I was outside 1-A when a fellow MP yelled to me and told me to come and observe a naked detainee for the purpose of humiliation," recalls Sharon Dixon, an MP Guard with the 72nd Military Police Company from Nevada. "The detainee was naked with his hands restrained behind his back. I believe the OGA (non-uniformed individuals from "other government agencies" like the CIA) was giving the MP advice on how to humiliate the detainee by having me observe him naked." September 20, 2003

Please, please look deeper. Don't just accept what this administration has feed you.

Mel said...

Thanks for your comments. I stand by my own. I am not passing judgments on the actions of the soldier I referred to, judgment has been passed by various courts on that matter.

I was by no means singling out 'Lynn' - it seems clear that mistreatment of prisoners was a wide problem. We haven't heard much about anyone going to prison, or losing their jobs because of this- neither the people 'following orders' or those higher up giving the orders.

I used the example of Lynn to make a point about how the same actions will receive different punishments under the civilian and court martial systems. Obviously the comparison isn't an entirely equal one when you have a situation of 'following orders', but the point stands that ignorance of the law, or standards, is no defence.

I don't think anyone thinks that the individual soldiers were totally to blame. Rules of international law were broken going into Iraq, and it seems like the rules of war were broken once in there. It is considered by many that the 'Rumfeld-Cheney' group, as you put it, were guilty of war crimes. But the existence of other people at fault doesn't detracts from individual responsibility, and indeed Ms England plead guilty to the charges she was accused of.

I picked the example of Ms England because in the popular consciousness her name is very closely linked with the horrors of Abu Ghraib (rightly or wrongly, that's the way our media works) in order to make a wider point about how punitive elements in the legal system often act out of all proportion. Those responsible for the events in Abu Ghraib, although morally infinitely more reprehensible, are potentially going to spend less time in prison (if at all) than a man who threw his shoes at the President.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you points are well taken. None of it is good,I guess that I have just grown tired of Lynn (I know her)being the pin-up girl for the Iraq War. Unfortunately, even though I did not vote for Bush - could never stand him, I believed him when he said Saddam had "WMD's". I believed Collin Powell, and my friends, mostly peace-lovers like myself were horrified that I feel for the Bush lies. Quickly, though, I realized I had been duped.

This entire war has been illegal. Lynn is fully aware of how these pictures impacted the world, but as I posted, this form of "interrogation" was considered legal by those who call the shots. Believe me, she has paid dearly. I am a much older person, and forgiving of the stupid-ass things young folks do - especially in such an horrific situation. I don't know how any of these reservists were able to get through it without losing their minds. Lynn, especially, joined the reserves thinking she would always be states-side dealing with acts of god or civil unrest. I look at pictures of her when she was a kid, a teen, and her first marriage and she like anyone else. I ask myself "what would I do in such a situation" - would I follow my moral beliefs? I would hope that I would, but I am older and I have seen what good people do - especially when involved in an abusive relationship- in the middle of a god forsaken place such as Abu Ghraib. All I ask is that you look upon this young woman (still young at 26) and think of her as someone you might know, have a beer with. I've been many places with her and it is interesting - no one really knows who they are talking to as she is so quiet and unassuming.

I'm sorry, I feel for all these soldiers - their government led them down a dark, dark path. Have you seen HBO's "Taxi to the Darkside"?

Be well, and happy new year....

Swiss Tony said...

Mel, and nothing about Israel!!

My dad always used to say, 'When will people learn to not mess about with Israel'

Actually, I don't think the word he used was 'mess', but you know what I mean.

Not wishing to get into a political debate or argument, but from what I read Hamaz send about 80+ rockets a day into Israel from residential areas, yet Israel is condemned for over reacting? I will put that down to me not knowing enough about the subject because i am sure wiser people than me do.

Anyway, if this government get re-elected I will be off to a Kibbutz and be done with it. I always have admired the Jews. Maybe I read too many Leon Uris books when I was a lad.

Anyway, glad you endeed your post on a few foody comments, and I bet you now wish you had posted about something a little less controversial.

All the best


Mel said...

Hey Swiss

Does the Swiss way with words run in the family then?! Heh.

I don't think anybody is trying to paint Hamas as the good guy. They shouldn't be firing rockets into Israel, whether the disputed territories or anywhere else.

My understanding is that they have said they will fire rockets until Israel accepts to lift the blockades that have been going on for over 3 years now as part of a ceasefire agreement. Blockades which are illegal, as I mentioned in the post.

The problem with this is that it's answering a wrong with another wrong. Any deaths of innocent people are to be regretted and should be prevented in any way possible.

But it seems to me that it is perfectly within Israel's control - if it ended the blockades, then the rocket fire would end? And they wouldn't have to wage war in Gaza, surely?

I admire the history of Jewish people as well - they have faced persecution many times throughout history in many places and each time have refused to give into an aggressor. But they have never faced aggression from the Palestinians, nor generally the Arab world. (Even going back into history, that can be said- Jews. Christians and Muslims lived together in relative peace and harmony under the Moors in Spain for example.)

To characterise this as a struggle of Jewish people against the Palestinians, or more broadly the Arabs would be massively wrong.

Does Israel speak for all Jews? Isn't that offensive to Jewish people to suggest that it is so, in the same way that the current government doesn't speak for you and me. There were Jewish people, even Rabbis who chose to break the Sabbath to join demonstrations in London this Saturday.

Secondly, it's never helpful to characterise political, territorial and economical disputes as 'clash of civilisations' or people. For a start, while I think the Palestinians are for the most part, ethnically Arabs, they're certainly not all Muslims. A significant minority are Christians, Catholics in particular.

What your dad was getting at I think when he said that people shouldn't mess with Israel is that they are a powerful country, with a big army and a lot of backing- particularly from the US.

It seems that any sympathy for the Palestinians is often construed here- but massively more so in the United States, where the government and media takes a very hardline pro-Israeli stance- as anti-semitism. I think that's massively offensive, and does a massive injustice to the Palestinians.

The Arab countries aren't sending any significant aid to Gaza. Britain and the EU won't say any more than 'oh, dear please stop killing each other'. The US backs Israel, pretty much unreservedly.

There is little incentive for Israel to resolve the conflict in a long-lasting way while the international community doesn't put pressure on it to do so. But until that happens, the world will not be a safe place.

I don't think anything I said was particularly controversial! But the subject is a controversial one. I heard Ken Livingstone (I'm going to guess you're not a fan of his!) on the radio the other day saying that the situation in Gaza as the moment was comparable to the Warsaw Ghetto.

What's not controversial is that food will pretty much always factor in my life, thoughts, and posts. I've just made a lovely cake actually...


Anonymous- I saw the interview in the Times this weekend, with Lynn England. It's good to hear the story from another perspective- now that she's out of the Army I suppose she's freer to talk about what went on, although it seems the policy of solidarity means that we won't know to what extent things really went on. I'll add a link here later.

Swiss Tony said...


No worries on Israel. I just heard Tony Blair on the radio saying it can be sorted out.

I bet those Palestinians will sleep safer in their beds tonight knowing old Tone is on the case.

(I wish I could get rid of the urge to swear when I hear his name.)


Mel said...

I understand how you feel. Was I the only person who did a double take when he was announced as a Peace Envoy to the Middle East? Some things you just can't satire!

He's getting an honour from Dubya for his 'unfaltering support for the US in the war on terror'.

Did you ever catch the play/ radio play re Blair and Bush's prosecutions at the Hague for War Crimes? V interesting.