Monday, August 29, 2011

Uri Avnery might be right about Libya but he's wrong about NATO

Uri Avnery is one of my heroes, although I don't know him. He is my idea of a gentleman and a scholar and a soldier, courageous and wise. If he was in charge of Israel and/or the United Nations, the world would be a different and better place. I idealize him to an extent that it's a relief to find I disagree with him.

I don't argue that Libya is better off for a change in management, particularly since the previous management was arbitrary, capricious, greedy, clever, brutal, intolerant, demeaning, grandiose, and stupid. The manner of the change however, is open to discussion.

I'm not an expert on Libya, North Africa, or the Middle East. I am, however, a citizen of NATO, and in particular a citizen of one of the several NATO countries - Canada - that has chosen to participate in whatever has been going on in Libya for the last six months. Although Canada is involved, it's not clear what it's doing, or why. This is my whole point about Uri's position: the behaviour of NATO is almost as arbitrary as that of Gaddafi, however you want to spell it. NATO is a military alliance and operates in secret, as is normal. As an instrument of international policy however, it's completely opaque, and not accountable to anybody except the United Nations Security Council that it treats with contempt, although it provides convenient legal cover. On the other hand, Brussels isn't that far from The Hague, and certain NATO persons might be a little nervous, with reason.

So here's my perspective - I admit I'm obsessed about it: British parliamentary democracy. It's a work of genius but like the giraffe, it has evolved. The design is not obvious. I'm starting to think that anybody who hasn't grown up in a British parliamentary democracy can't begin to appreciate how it works, as indeed those of us who have grown up in such a democracy don't know how it works either unless we stand back to admire the machinery. It might not work for everybody, but there is one inescapable conclusion: the citizens agree to the rule of law. That principle of course could work in any other system - the American experiment for example, although it's becoming painfully clear that the rule of law is no longer accepted by American citizens. British parliamentary democracy however has about 1000 years of continuous evolution going for it. Be that as it may, there has been another evolution more recently, which is the rule of international law. I don't need to rehearse the wisdom or validity of international law: its existence is a fact, however you want to define it. A treaty between two nation states is international law, although I'm not entirely clear who agreed to the "Civil Assistance Plan" signed between "Canada Command" and the American "Northern Command." I digress.

A whole lot was made of international law at Nuremberg, and people hung as a result, some of the relevant crimes involved having nothing to do with the Holocaust and everything to do with violations of international humanitarian law, shooting of prisoners out of hand for example. There is a lot of precedent, and I note only in passing that the Supreme Court of Canada stated that international humanitarian law was "binding" on the government of Canada, and that a guy from Rwanda was convicted of war crimes in Quebec Superior Court (on the basis of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, 2000) and jailed as a result.

Where I'm going with this is that the legal basis for military intervention in Libya is a crock. Regardless of persuasive moral arguments, either we have the rule of law or we have the rule of power politics, which - as defined by George Orwell - is that there are no rules. If there are no rules, then whatever happens is fine, international law is frippery, forget the UN Security Council and all that: power grows from the barrel of a gun. I don't think anybody at NATO is pretending that that's the case, or if they are (Obama comes to mind), they're not being honest about it. Why lie?

If we do have the rule of law in international affairs, Libya becomes rapidly awkward. Many Libyan people clearly and courageously expressed a desire for change, and were met with brutality. So, what do we - we who stood around and let The Holocaust happen - do?

The relevant framework is at the United Nations, and the concept in play is the Responsibility To Protect, the fashionable "R2P." My argument to Uri is that it's a cool concept, but nobody has the vaguest idea how to do it, that it's probably hard as hell, and doesn't involve the military except in the most agonizingly restrained way. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970, passed unanimously 15-0, called for certain Libyan authorities to be referred to the International Criminal Court, and for vigorous negotiations to take place with regard to power in Libya. To me, a Canadian citizen, this was a big deal, because the United States recognized the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and everybody was in favour of the approach, including China and Russia.

Then, panic set in - something set in - and there was immediate agitation for military intervention, intervention "authorized" by UNSCR 1973 - passed 10-0 with 5 abstentions, including China, Russia, Brazil,  India and Germany - and was used immediately by NATO, or at least the Cool Group in NATO, to loose off cruise missiles and miscellaneous hardware, to fulfill a "mandate" Germany didn't recognize as legitimate.

You see, Uri? There might be short term gain, but there's gonna be long term pain. Is the UN Security Council responsible for war crimes that might have been committed by NATO or its subsidiaries? In what court would we hold the Security Council responsible? That of course also applies to Afghanistan where UN Security Council Resolution 1386 was used as a "mandate" for everything that has subsequently occurred, war crimes committed by NATO troops seeming probable, almost certain.

Take my own country, Canada. I was shocked that my own House of Commons voted carte blanche for the government to do anything they wanted in Libya, with no accountability, the whole affair being planned by NATO in secret as if we were some kind of vassal state. I was pleased to note that there was one vote against the motion - cast by Elizabeth May, widely regarded as a left wing environmental wingnut - who objected to the "open ended" nature of the motion. Yay, Elizabeth! It's like Gruening and Morse voting against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution when people stampeded to get in line with the Executive, leading to a lot of grief, people like William Fulbright stampeding even though they knew better. Now we have Obama not even bothering with Congress - the UN "mandate" means he can do whatever the hell he wants?

You see why you're wrong, Uri? It's arbitrary rule. Even if it means well, it sucks. UNSCR 1970 was the hard path of wisdom, keeping the goddamn finger off the trigger while showing the world the rule of law. Instead, we have George Orwell's nightmare, come to haunt us.

So here's a thought: maybe we can repeal UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Why not? It can be part of the evolution.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Geneva Conventions and the Death of Osama bin Laden

Suggested citation: Chibli Mallat, The Geneva Conventions and the Death of Osama Bin Laden, JURIST - Forum, Aug. 4, 2011,

Jack Layton's letter to Canadians

Photo: Maclean's Magazine

From the CBC:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Carmen & Roland's Five O'Clock Follies

The Press: Farewell to the Follies
Monday, Feb. 12, 1973

Read more:,9171,903831,00.html#ixzz1VizJJ8eo

The cease-fire has been bullet-riddled, and the U.S. withdrawal was far from complete last week. But there was one sure sign of vanishing American involvement: the daily military press briefing, an eight-year-old Saigon spectacle known as the 5 O'Clock Follies, had its final performance with an American cast. Army Major Jere Forbus, the last Follies star, sighed, "Well, we may not have been perfect, but we outlasted Fiddler on the Roof." The Associated Press Saigon bureau chief, Richard Pyle, was less benign but more accurate when he called the briefings "the longest-playing tragicomedy in Southeast Asia's theater of the absurd."

The briefings were originally designed to give reporters clear, concise summaries of widely scattered action. They grew out of casual sessions started by Barry Zorthian, a former Voice of America official, after he became head of press relations in the U.S. mission in Viet Nam. Now a Time Inc. vice president, Zorthian recalls that until he arrived on the scene, there had been no regular briefings. Gradually the 5 O'Clock Follies evolved into a strange show that satisfied no one. "The military instinct," says Zorthian, "was always to provide less rather than more. Many times the information we gave out was incomplete. Or else it was too early for us to be sure of its accuracy."

Partly as a result of reporters' demands for precision, briefers began to deal in body counts and other statistics that eventually proved to be of dubious value. As time passed, most enterprising newsmen boycotted the Follies. Explains Keyes Beech of the Chicago Daily News: "They seldom bore any resemblance whatever to the facts in the field." On March 16, 1968, a mimeographed release included this passage: "In an action today, Americal Division forces killed 128 enemy near Quang Ngai City. Helicopter gunships and artillery missions supported the ground elements throughout the day." Thus did the Follies announce the infamous action at My Lai.

Fortunately for the newsmen—and for their audiences back home—the Follies represented only one aspect of official press policy. Veteran Viet Nam reporters agree that almost everything distorted or left unsaid at the Follies was readily obtainable in the field. More important, the U.S. military was usually willing to transport reporters to the action. Says Don Wise of the London Daily Mirror: "You were taken wherever you wanted to go, to see whatever you wanted to see." Horst Faas, who won two Pulitzer Prizes as an A.P. photographer, agrees that it was easier to cover the war than to cover less violent stories in parts of Europe. "Because the Americans made it so easy to get around," he explains, "it was easy to get killed. That's why so many died—freedom of the press." A total of 55 newsmen are missing or dead in Indochina, and many others have been wounded.

Faas, who says that he is determined not "to step on that last land mine," points out that it is still easy to get killed. Last week two television newsmen were wounded. With the South Vietnamese now in full control of press regulations, conditions are becoming more difficult. Credentials are being issued for only limited periods and are lifted at the slightest provocation. After an argument with a Vietnamese province chief last week, Craig Whitney of the New York Times and Peter Osnos of the Washington Post had to watch as their tires were shot out and their film was exposed.

Covering "peace," in other words, can be as difficult as following the fighting. At Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, where some members of the Saigon press corps and other newsmen gathered to wait for the P.O.W. flights from Hanoi, a cadre of 55 military press officers descended on the base with orders to keep P.O.W.s and reporters apart. Afternoon briefings—quickly dubbed the 2 O'Clock Follies—were begun, as one officer explained, "to provide the press with a time to air their complaints." Finding this outlet insufficient, A.P. Reporter Peter Arnett filed a story outlining the perfumed and powdered care that base nurses planned to lavish on the P.O.W.s. Fearing howls of outrage from P.O.W. wives, the Pentagon hastily dispatched two high-level press officers to negotiate a cease-fire with the press.

Find this article at:,9171,903831,00.html

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Interoperability in The Hobbit - a Keynesian perspective

John Maynard Keynes has a lot to answer for. So does Karl Marx. Also, Groucho Marx.

In the Battle of the Five Armies, Tolkien presents a metaphor - although he surely would deny it - of Keynsian economics vs. the power of fascism. I'm not even sure what that means. The free market is a foreign concept in The Hobbit, but wholly in keeping with Tolkien's background, steeped in privilege, in which received unquestioned wisdom is that your betters know better.

That attitude might be toast.

"By ignoring the concerns of torture victims and major human rights organisations, the government risks a pointless whitewash."

But former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind denied the inquiry was secretive and said the campaigners were "cutting off their nose to spite their face".

"I cannot recollect an inquiry that's been proposed to be so open as we're having in this particular case," he said.

Sir Peter Gibson will chair the planned inquiry which was initially welcomed by campaigners "When was the last time the head of MI5 and the head of MI6 - the prime minister has made quite clear - can be summoned to this inquiry and be required to give evidence?"

He also said a "vast amount" of the information would be made public, and there had to be "some element of trust" when the authorities were dealing with top secret information.

The fact is, there is no trust. After the Iraq disaster and subsequent limp-wristed inquiries into its origin of folly, trust between the ruling and the ruled has broken down entirely, except for Kate and Wills. They're, like, OK. As to the John Scarletts of the world...the sooner they're on trial in The Hague, the better.

A poke in one of the Five Eyes with a sharp stick

Let the unravelling begin...

...and of course, the Battles of the Five Armies.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Now we've got them where we want them..."

200,000 white guys might be wrong

A ‘sign of weakness’ in the propaganda of war
OP-ED | H.D.S. Greenway
August 02, 2011



Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Hissing of Summer Astroturf

White Anglo hypocrisy and Nycole Turmel


Pentagocarcinoma in Washington

A horrible new cancer is destroying the United States, almost without anybody noticing. Pentagocarcinoma (PCa) is probably not a new disease, but began about the time of World War 2. Unfortunately, it is now completely out of control, evading all attempts at treatment.

Like most epithelial cancers, PCa began on the periphery (of Washington, in Virginia in fact) but relentlessly enlarged itself, like all cancers, developing its own blood supply to the cost of its host. Then it metastasized.

The metastases are global, and themselves expand, making their own blood supplies, while the host withers. Treatment at this stage would be restricted to only the most drastic chemotherapy. The prognosis is poor, even absent rigid denial of the diagnosis.