John McDonnell is wrong: Tony Blair is a war criminal, morally and legally.

British Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell recently gave an interview to Alastair Campbell for GQ magazine.

McDonnell has long been associated with the left wing of the Labour party, and has a long track record of opposing war and neoliberalism from the back benches. To his credit, he was one of the few Labour MPs with the foresight and principle to vote against bombing Libya in 2011.

Campbell, on the other hand, was Tony Blair’s press secretary, and played a key role in trying to sell the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the British public.

In 2010, The Guardian reported that:

Fresh evidence has emerged that Tony Blair’s discredited Iraqi arms dossier was “sexed up” on the instructions of Alastair Campbell, his communications chief, to fit with claims from the US administration that were known to be false.

As is now known, the invasion and occupation of Iraq was an unmitigated distaster in every respect. It failed on every conceivable grounds that you might try to justify it on.

There were no WMDs, and there was no intelligence saying Iraq presented any kind of threat to the U.K..

It made the terror threat to the U.K. worse, as the Blair government knew it would.

It lead to an increase in torture in Iraq itself, rather than a decrease, as well as ongoing and severe repression (scores of protestors have been shot dead by Iraqi security forces in the last few days alone). This torture wasn’t confined to Iraqi security forces, of course. The U.S. employed torture as well, at Abu Ghraib prison, and deliberately turned a blind eye when they saw Iraqi security forces doing it.

Far from leaving behind a democracy, the U.S. and Britain left behind a ‘budding Police state’, according to Human Rights Watch.

It also, as Barack Obama said, helped to birth ISIS.

And last but not least, 4-5 million Iraqi people were killed or displaced, often as part of gruesome masscares, such as the one at Haditha.

There can be no suggestion that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a well intentioned endeavour that went tragically wrong. The evidence points to it being based on lies, deceit, profiteering and supreme contempt for Iraqi lives from day one.

It is my contention that by even agreeing to be interviewed by Campbell, one of the people responsible for the invasion of Iraq, McDonnell was helping to rehabilitate the reputation of and normalise someone who should not be rehabilitated and normalised. For that alone, McDonnell – who *does* know better –  should be ashamed of himself.

Even more troubling than McDonnell cosying up to a propagandist for war crimes, during the course of the interview McDonnell denied that Tony Blair is a war criminal.

Personally, I would have opposed the invasion of Iraq even if it had been legal. The U.N. Security Council is not a reliable arbiter of what is and isn’t acceptable on the global stage, dominated as it is by the major international powers acting in their own, often conflicting, interests.

However, the case for the invasion of Iraq being formally illegal is a strong one. Without a second Security Council resolution authorising it, it amounted to the Crime of Aggression, something which a judge at the Nuremberg Tribunals described as ‘the supreme international crime’.

This is not a fringe anti-war position. The legal director and deputy legal director at the Foreign Office at the time of the invasion both advised it was illegal. The U.N. Secretary General at the time also said it was illegal.

Legally then, Tony Blair is a prime facie war criminal, and a very serious one to boot.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq was also a moral crime, for the reasons I have set out above (the evidence for torture, massacres and repression being carried out by the occupying authorities and their Iraqi proxies is so extensive that I’m not going to present it all here). Indeed, in 2007, Amnesty International explicity accused the Blair government of ‘trying to undermine the ban on torture at home and abroad’.

McDonnell says in the GQ interview that Tory austerity is killing his constituents. He has also said in the past the Tories might be tried for social murder. I have no wish to quibble with or dispute these positions.

But by denying Tony Blair is a war criminal – and so by extenstion, that the invasion of Iraq was a crime – McDonnell is, whether he intended to or not, devaluing the lives of millions of Iraqi civilians as compared to the lives of his constituents. He is helping to cultivate a political climate where something like Iraq might happen again.

That is the rankest social imperialism, is rooted in racism, and should have no place in any party that wants to call itself socialist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist.

It is now incumbant on McDonnell to clarify his remarks, or apologise.


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George Monbiot’s strange and shameful silence on U.S./U.K. atrocities in Syria.

British newspaper columnist George Monbiot recently announced on Twitter that, over the past 18 months, he has been accused of being ‘a paid asset for the CIA, M15 or Mossad’. He said the reason for this was that he speaks ‘out against the war crimes of Bashar al-Assad, and those who whitewash them’. As below:

Let me just make it clear here that I do not believe George Monbiot is a paid asset of any British, American or Israeli intelligence agency. I also believe him when he says he doesn’t support Western military intervention in Syria.

As I have written on this blog previously, I also think it’s likely that the Syrian and Russian governments have committed war crimes over the last eight years of conflict. The documentation for it is too widespread for it all to be dismissed as U.S. and British war propaganda (even if some of it obviously is).

Monbiot has, over the last few years, made a habit of denouncing figures on the left who he sees as being insufficiently critical – or even supportive – of war crimes carried out by the Syrian and Russian governments. For example:

However, during the course of all this, there is one thing that I’ve always found troubling: his own terrible white washing of war crimes in Syria.

To demonstrate this whitewashing, i’m going to compare and contrast his Twitter reaction to two different battles that took place in Syria.


The first was the battle for Aleppo, which culminated in December 2016. This pitted Syrian government and Russian forces against the assorted rebel groups that were holding Aleppo, including Hayat Tahir al-Sham, widely regarded as an offshoot of ‘Al Qaeda’ (remember those guys?).

Monbiot tweeted about this battle 9 times. Here’s a selection of those tweets:

‘Assad and Russia wiping out Aleppo. A monstrous crime against humanity’,

‘Assad and Putin’s destruction of and its people is a crime beyond reckoning.’

‘Civilians in today are facing horrors we can only imagine. Shame on the apologists for Assad and Putin’.

‘Never let partisanship blind you to humanity. That Assad and Putin have committed war crimes in is obvious to anyone prepared to see’.

‘Assad appeals to some on the left because he opposes US/UK power. He’s still a butcher and torturer.

As you can see, Monbiot pulled no punches in criticising the Syrian and Russian governments, and employed highly emotive terminology to describe what was being done to Aleppo. He also denounced ‘apologists’, including ‘some on the left’.


His response to events in another Syrian city, however, was markedly different.

Between June and October 2017, the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ – a U.S. armed and trained militia largely made up of Kurdish forces – launched an assault on Raqqa, which was being held by ISIS.

They were backed by U.S. and British air strikes and artillery, with the Marine Times describing how the U.S. Marine Core had ‘fired more rounds in five months in Raqqa, Syria, than any other Marine artillery battalion, or any Marine or Army battalion, since the Vietnam war’.

An August 2017 report from The Guardian – written while the assault was in full swing –  documented how the residents of Raqqa would, between lulls in the bombing, scavenge for food among the dead bodies and bombed out homes:

‘When the airstrikes stop, one person from each family goes out to look for food in the homes that have been bombed and whose owners have been killed. Most of the time they don’t find food but bring back news of the dead, along with some items that can be put to use like candles, pieces of wood or medicines’.

After Amnesty International had carried out a comprehensive review of the bombing, their U.K. director, Kate Allen, wrote in The Guardian in May 2019 that:

‘Never before have I seen a city so completely devastated. Not just in one district area, but almost entirely. Think Dresden and you’d be close. Street after street of windowless, hollowed-out buildings. Miles of rubble. Piles of twisted metal. Utter ruin. There has been no assistance for residents desperate to rebuild, and entire families are reduced to living in bombed-out husks of buildings. Meanwhile, many children spend all day scavenging in the rubble for bits of steel and plastic they can sell so as to buy food. They risk injury and death from unsafe buildings and uncleared landmines’.

Allen added that Amnesty’s investigation had found that ‘at least 1,600 civilians in Raqqa were killed by the coalition’s aerial attacks, 10 times more than previously acknowledged’.

By any reasonable measure, then, what the U.S., U.K. and their proxy forces did to Raqqa was an abomination. Huge numbers of civilians killed, many more injured, displaced and traumatised, and a whole city all but destroyed.

Given George Monbiot’s outrage at what the Russian and Syrian governments had done to Aleppo 8 months earlier, you might have expected he would have something to say about this. This is especially so given his own government – the one he funds, and which purports to represent him in the global stage, thus giving him a degree of moral responsibility for them – was one of the perpetrators.

Would he lament ‘May and Trump wiping out Raqqa’? Would he describe it as a ‘monstrous crime against humanity’? Would he denounce the ‘May and Trump apologists on the right’?

Well, the short answer is: no.

George Monbiot *said nothing*. Not a word of condemnation, not a single attempt to highlight the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding, not even a passing mention, either as it was happening, or afterwards.

As a high profile columnist on the left, he could’ve helped highlight what was being done to Raqqa by writing about it, perhaps leading to increased public pressure on the British government to put a stop it.

Given that Monbiot’s tweets on Aleppo demonstrate he has taken an interest in events in Syria, and that he is concerned about the suffering of civilians there, what might explain his total silence about U.S. and British atrocities in Raqqa?

One could think of all sorts of plausible explanations beyond him being an intelligence asset. Unconscious bias shaped by the corporate media he works for being a key one, perhaps.

Whatever the reason,  the effect (if not necessarily the intent) was to disappear one of the most egregious and immoral crimes committed in recent years – by his own government, or any.

Monbiot might like to think about that the next time he feels like denouncing Official Enemies, and those who white wash them.

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Peter Tatchell continues to lie about his position on Syria.

In December 2015, I wrote a blog post outlining all the ways in which Peter Tatchell was supportive of, and had been calling for, military intervention in Syria.

Tatchell had previously said that the claim he supported military intervention was a ‘smear’, and I wanted to demonstrate that this wasn’t the case. Rather, it was a hard fact based on his own words and arguments.

In a tweet posted on 29/04/2018, Tatchell has once again denied supporting bombing, in the course of criticising Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on the conflict in Syria. In response to his tweet, I pointed out that this was untrue, that Tatchell does indeed support bombing Syria, and had written a whole article to this end.

Tatchell’s response was – once again –  to accuse me of smearing him and lying.

Here is the relevant exchange:


The article I was referring to was published by The Daily Telegraph in October 2016.

In the article, Tatchell advocates setting up what he calls an ‘NBZ’, or no-bomb zone, and says it would be enforced thus:

But a NBZ does not have to be like that. This is how it could work: if Syria or Russia defied the NBZ, there would be no retaliation against Russia. Instead, there would be carefully targeted attacks against Assad regime military assets, such as runways, aircraft and military intelligence and communications centres. The Syrian regime would pay the price for violations – a deterrent both to it and its Russian allies.

A NBZ would not require air patrols over Syrian territory. Countries such as the UK and US have the capacity to track aircraft in Syria from beyond Syrian airspace using satellites and spy drones, and to respond to NBZ breaches with guided missiles launched from outside Syrian territory – such as from the West’s own warships in the Mediterranean.

(Emphasis mine)

He then goes on to write that:

It is true, of course, that enforcing the NBZ would probably result in some civilians being killed accidentally. But even Nato’s months of aerial attacks in Libya in 2011, which went beyond a NBZ and are not a model to emulate, resulted in only 72 confirmed civilian fatalities, according to Human Rights Watch (the real figure may have been higher but not hundreds, let alone thousands).

If civilians died as result of NBZ enforcement it would be desperately sad. But innocents are already dying in their thousands. So we must ask ourselves what is worse: an NBZ that could result in a low number of non-combatant deaths or the continuation of the current Assad and Putin bombing raids that have resulted in tens of thousands of civilian casualties?

My claim was that Tatchell ‘does indeed support bombing, and wrote a whole article in The Telegraph calling for it, even if it kills civilians’. I believe that the passages i’ve just quoted from his Telegraph article demonstrate this beyond any reasonable doubt.

If you wanted to be pedantic, you could say Tatchell argued for *missiles* to be dropped on Syria, even if they kill civilians, rather than bombs, but frankly I don’t really see a moral or political difference. We are still talking about airborne warheads blowing things up, including – potentially – civilians.

For anyone who has been following Tatchell’s activism on Syria over the years, this will not be surprising. His arguments have always lacked consistency to the point of absurdity – e.g. calling for an arms embargo on Syria, while also calling for heavy weapons to be supplied to select rebel groups – and he has always been very slippery and dishonest when challenged on them.

I think i’ll let the reader make up their own mind as to who’s telling the truth and who isn’t on this particular occasion.


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Afghanistan, the Uncountry.

Below is an excerpt from the International Criminal Court’s 2016 preliminary examination report on potential war crimes in Afghanistan. Needless to say, it’s findings are shocking, particularly when it comes to the conduct of U.S. forces and intelligence agencies. I will let the findings speak for themselves:

211. The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that, in the course of interrogating these detainees, and in conduct supporting those interrogations, members of the US armed forces and the US Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) resorted to techniques amounting to the commission of the war crimes of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape. These acts are punishable under articles 8(2)(c)(i) and (ii) and 8(2)(e)(vi) of the Statute. Specifically:

  • Members of US armed forces appear to have subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity on the territory of Afghanistan between 1 May 2003 and 31 December 2014. The majority of the abuses are alleged to have occurred in 2003-2004.
  • Members of the CIA appear to have subjected at least 27 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape on the territory of Afghanistan and other States Parties to the Statute (namely Poland, Romania and Lithuania) between December 2002 and March 2008. The majority of the abuses are alleged to have occurred in 2003-2004.

212. These alleged crimes were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals. Rather, they appear to have been committed as part of approved interrogation techniques in an attempt to extract ‘actionable intelligence’ from detainees. According to information available, the resort to such interrogation techniques was ultimately put to an end by the authorities concerned, hence the limited time-period during which the crimes allegedly occurred

So as you can see, the report makes allegations of ‘torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape’ that were not limited to ‘a few isolated individuals’, and that were carried out between 2003-2014.

Let us not forget that, alongside the anti-terrorist justification , the U.S.  have long claimed to be occupying Afghanistan to build democracy, peace and respect for human rights, particularly those of women and girls. These claims have been dutifully relayed by state-corporate media. This despite the fact that there has long been evidence in the public domain of their criminal misconduct. This has taken the form of support for abusive militias, the mass killing of civilians with impunity, or wiping whole villages off the map.

This International Criminal Court preliminary report now forms part of that considerable body of evidence, encompassing both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Given the horrific nature of these allegations, how is it that some people still regard the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan as ‘the good war’, the war which is worth fighting?

As recently as August, for example, when Donald Trump announced his troop escalation in Afghanistan, a Guardian editorial said that ‘Mr Trump is right to say the US cannot turn its back on Afghanistan’. Predictably, in giving its tacit support to continued occupation, the editorial ommitted any mention of ongoing US crimes in Afghanistan

In his book of the same name, Mark Curtis talks about the concept of ‘Unpeople’. If I have understood correctly, ‘Unpeople’ are essentially those victims of war crimes and human rights abuses who don’t matter to state-corporate media and the political classes, because it’s not politically expedient for them to matter. In practice, that amounts to widespread indifference to ‘our’ victims.

What if Afghanistan itself as an ‘Uncountry’? A country that has been at war so long – pretty much continuously since the early 1980s – that you can do anything to it and its people without anyone batting an eyelid. War, brutality, wretchedness, suffering: they are considered part and parcel of life in that country. An inevitable reality.

But my contention is that war, brutality, wretchedness and suffering needn’t be part of the reality in Afghanistan. They are not inevitable. And perhaps the first step to eliminating them is exposing and challenging the states whose policies and actions knowingly contribute to such conditions.

For those of us living in NATO countries, that means ‘our’ governments, and their torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon and rape of the Afghan people.


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Preventing a massacre – of France’s economic interests in Africa.

When NATO started bombing Libya in March 2011, the justification given was that bombing was essential to protect civilians. More specifically, it was essential to prevent the Libyan armed forces overrunning Benghazi, and carrying out a massacre.

Hillary Clinton explicitly invoked the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia to try and drum up support for military intervention in Libya.

However, last year, Sarah Leah-Whitson, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Times that ‘we did not see the imminence of massacres that would rise to genocide like levels’, and that while ‘there were threats of Libyan forces approaching Benghazi . . .  we didn’t feel that rose to the level of imminent genocide like atrocities’.

The Washington Times article also states that, according to officials, ‘defense intelligence officials could not corroborate’ the claims of an impending, large scale massacre in Benghazi, and thought that ‘Gadaffi was unlikely to risk world outrage by inflicting mass casualties’.

Personally, I always thought that justification was propaganda, or, to use the technical term, flagrant bullshit. The idea that the same people who’d spent years  killing and mistreating civilians in large numbers in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen  suddenly cared about protecting civilians in Libya was absurd.

I suspected that the real goal in Libya was regime change – and this was of course subsequently borne out by events. France, the U.K. and the U.S. saw an opportunity to use the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings as cover to get rid of Gadaffi, and took it.

While some people dismiss the argument that wars and invasions in the middle east and north Africa are motivated to a substantial degree by oil interests as overly simplistic, if not completely wrong, I think it’s one that has plenty evidence to back it up. And I thought oil was probably a main motivating factor in Libya as well.

For example, classified U.S. diplomatic cables from November 2007, published by Wikileaks, had demonstrated the the U.S. government was concerned that Libya was implementing ‘increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector that could jeopardize efficient exploitation of Libya’s extensive oil and gas reserves’.

Can’t have these incompetent third world upstarts getting funny ideas about being in charge of their own oil, eh?

We now have clear confirmation that oil was indeed a motivating factor. A declassified e-mail to Hilary Clinton, sent on April 2nd 2011 from  her political advisor Sidney Blumenthal, lays out what France’s motivations in bombing Libya were (and you can reasonably assume that British and U.S. motivations weren’t very different).

Blumenthal says that ‘knowledgeable individuals’ had told him ‘Sarkozy’s plans’ for Libya were ‘driven by the following issues’. He then sets out the issues as:

‘a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,

b. Increase French influence in North Africa,

c. Improve his intenal political situation in France,

d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world,

e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa’.

Click to access C05779612.pdf

Note the near exclusive focus on France’s strategic and economic interests in Africa – oil, power, influence, allowing the French military to re-assert itself in the world – and the complete lack of focus on the well being of Libyan civilians.

That humanitarianism wasn’t NATO’s motive in Libya quickly became obvious at the time, if it hadn’t been already, as NATO and the rebel forces they were backing started to commit and facilitate mass atrocity crimes themselves. These included, but were by no means limited to, the complete destruction of whole towns (Tawergha, Tomina, Kararim, Sirte), massacres, widespread torture, racist persecution and the bombing of schools.

These things can not be described as ‘humane’ in any meaningful sense of the word.

Libya is now, of course, racked by internecine violence, with lawless militias – the loveable ‘rebel’ rascals of 2011 –  continuing to kill, torture and generally persecute anyone who gets in their way, and the country is split between two rival governments.

ISIS have also apparently gained a foot hold, and there is fresh talk of the U.K. sending troops and launching air strikes to counter them.

If those troops are sent, we will no doubt be told by politicians and the corporate press that the mission is solely about fighting terrorism and helping the Libyan people stabilise their country.

Don’t believe it for a second. Just as in 2011 ‘preventing a massacre’ was used as the pretext to pursue oil and other economic and strategic interests, with massive crimes committed in the course of that, so in 2016 ‘fighting ISIS’ will be used as the pretext to pursue them the same.

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The strange advocacy of pro-war anti-war activist Peter Tatchell

On Thursday 10th December, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attended a dinner organised by the Stop the War Coalition (StWC). Corbyn has long been associated with StWC, and until very recently was it’s chairman.

There was a small protest outside the building where the dinner was held, attended by, among others, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, and James Bloodworth, who supports the U.S. bombing of Iraq.

As here:



(Tatchell, centre; Bloodworth, right)

Tatchell et al allege that StWC have been insufficiently critical of the Assad regime, and Russia’s bombing of Syria. While it is true that StWC’s activism hasn’t been focused on the Assad regime and Russia, I personally don’t see much of a problem with that.  The job of anti-war activists in the U.K. should be to, first and foremost, stop the wars being waged by the U.K. regime.

Tatchell himself claims to be against all bombing in Syria. As here:

However, for over two years, Tatchell was calling for a ‘no-fly zone’ and ‘safe havens’ to be implemented in Syria.

Here he is at a StWC demo in 2013, calling for exactly that:

And here’s a tweet of his from October 2015, also calling for a ‘no-fly zone’:

A ‘no-fly zone’ in the conventional sense of the term is an inescapably pro-war demand. As Philip Breedlove, the senior General within NATO, said in 2013:

‘It is quite frankly an act of war and it is not a trivial matter . . . It would absolutely be harder than Libya . . . This is a much denser, much more capable defense system than we’d faced in Libya . . . I know it sounds stark, but what I always tell people when they talk to me about a no-fly zone is . . . it’s basically to start a war with that country because you are going to have to go in and kinetically take out their air defense capability’.

‘Safe havens’ would also require a massive military presence to protect them, and Joe Stork, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, has said that ‘There is no indication these so-called safe zones will actually be safe for civilians’.

Bizarrely, Tatchell wanted the regime in Nigeria – which itself has been accused of bombing and massacring civilians – to be one of the countries which implemented these ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe havens’. As here:

Why even mention these states as ‘enforcers’ if he wasn’t calling for outside powers to militarily intervene in Syria?

And  it’s frankly a strange kind of ‘humanitarianism’ that puts forward such vicious abusers as the saviors of Syrian civilians.

Tatchell now says that, when he calls for a ‘no-fly zone’, he thinks this should be enforced by giving anti-aircraft missiles and heavy artillery to Syrian rebel groups, rather than bombing. As here:

(Why he is calling for an ‘arms embargo’, at the same time as calling for heavy weaponry to be given to Syrian rebel groups, i’m sure only he knows)

However, even this is an inescapably pro-war demand, which will almost certainly escalate the war in Syria. As Oxfam said in 2013:

. . . sending further arms into Syria would simply fuel the deadly arms race which is unfolding on Syrian soil, and it will be civilians who pay the highest price.

Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. Secretary General, has also said that ‘It is essential to stem the flow of arms pouring into the country’, while Navi Pillay, in her role as the U.N.’s human rights rapporteur, said that ‘The…provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents feeds additional violence’.

There is also the very real danger of these weapons falling into the hands of groups like ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, as Amnesty recently pointed out.

Tatchell’s position, then, even if it now does fall short of calling for bombing (‘no-fly zones’), is not in any way, shape or form ‘anti-war’. He is in favour of military intervention in Syria, via the provision of heavy weapons to rebel groups, and the setting up of ‘safe havens’.

Tatchell has recently denied that the demo he attended outside of the StWC dinner called for bombing, and accused the people who alleged this of lying. As here:

However, photos from the demo appear to show that some people were indeed holding placards supportive of airstrikes / bombing. A Sky News report showed these scenes:

Is there really any other way to interpret those signs – ‘Thanks to British friends for the airstrikes’ and ‘Airstrikes liberated Sinjar’ – than as being supportive of airstrkes / bombing? I don’t think so.

Quite simply, then, and while it is not a nice term to throw around – I certainly don’t use it lightly – it is Peter Tatchell who is potentially lying. At best, he wasn’t aware of the posters some of the people on his demo were holding.

Tatchell has a reputation as a human rights campaigner and anti-war activist. And,  I would say, the human rights aspect is warranted and well earned. He’s been a tireless campaigner on a number of human rights issues for decades, and I don’t wish to denigrate that.

On the issue of war, though, he has made a habit in recent years of saying ‘I am anti-war – but here is my pro-war demand, and if the left / anti-war movement don’t go along with it, shame on them!’.

Here he is basically saying ‘I am anti-war, but the occupation of Afghanistan must continue for the good of Afghans’.

And here he is basically saying ‘I am anti-war, but Libya must be bombed for the good of Libyans’.

Even as far back as 2003, he was arguing for a kind of ‘intervention lite’ approach to Iraq, writing that while he was opposed to an outright invasion, ‘The international community should train and arm the Iraqi opposition forces, especially the Kurds and Shias who already have viable armies’, providing ‘tanks, helicopter gun-ships, fighter planes, heavy artillery and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles’.

What could possibly have gone wrong?

My problem with Tatchell, then, is that he’s essentially agitating for military intervention in Syria, while claiming the mantle of the anti-war movement, and smearing the actual one (e.g. he has previously accused the ‘anti-war movement’ of ‘collusion with Assad’).

While Tatchell is certainly entitled to his opinions, and surely thinks the policies he is advocating are for the greater good, there can be no doubt that he criticises the StWC from the vantage point of someone whose views are, unlike theirs, pro-military intervention in a number of ways.

People would do well to remember that.

Edit: this post was amended on 16/12/2015, to remove the claim that James Bloodworth is a ‘drone supporter’. Bloodworth has clarified that he ‘doesn’t know’ if he supports drones or not. He does, however, support the U.S. bombing of Iraq, in which drones are being used. I’m happy to issue the correction.

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Shock finding from Opinion Research Business poll: Iraqis don’t want us to bomb them.

From a poll of Iraqi public opinion, carried out in July 2015:

56% of Iraqis strongly or somewhat oppose airstrikes being carried out by coalition forces, as compared to 44% who strongly or somewhat support them.

Click to access iraqdata.pdf

The poll also found, among other things, that:

– 62% of Iraqis think that the ‘coalition against ISIS’ (presumably the U.S., U.K., et al) has a negative influence on events in Iraq.

– 85% of Iraqis agree that ISIS was made in the U.S.A..

– 74% of Iraqis oppose the partition of the country.

– 75% of Iraqis believe Iraqis can put aside their differences and live together.

As In Syria, then, it seems Iraqis are not quite as sold on the benefits of being bombed by the U.S. and U.K. as some pundits in the U.S. and U.K. are.

And, rightly or wrongly, they seem convinced that the U.S. have had a hand in creating ISIS.

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New poll of Syrian public opinion.

The poll was carried out by Opinion Research Business in July.

As ever, caveats should apply to the results. About the difficulties of accurate polling in war zones and authoritarian states. About the inability of opinion polls to capture nuance. And about the often rapidly changing views of the public depending on developments on the ground.

But here are some of the results nonetheless.


49% of Syrians oppose or strongly oppose coalition airstrikes in Syria, compared to 48% who strongly support or support them

Interesting if only because one pro-Syrian intervention argument is that Syrians themselves want it. And while some clearly do, slightly more don’t.

 – 49% of Syrians think Bashar al Assad has a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 47% who think he has a somewhat or completely positive influence.

– 72% of Syrians think the Syrian opposition coalition has a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 26% who think they have a somewhat or completely positive influence.

– 76% of Syrians think ISIS have a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 21% who think they have a somewhat or completely positive influence.

– 63% of Syrians think the Free Syrian Army have a completely or somewhat negative influence in Syria, compared to 36% who think they have a somewhat or completely positive influence.

Another interesting one that challenges pro-intervention narratives. According to this, more Syrians think Assad has a positive influence on Syria than they think the Free Syrian Army or the political opposition have a positive influence.

This undermines the simplistic notion that what is unfolding in Syria is essentially a struggle between a widely hated dictator, and a military and political opposition with mass popular appeal. The poll suggests that this is not necessarily the case at all (and for what it’s worth, respected analysts like Nir Rosen have previously published research suggesting similar).

 – 51% of Syrians think a political solution is the best way of resolving the crisis in Syria, compared to only 37% who think a military solution is

Once again, this runs contrary to the standard pro-intervention narrative, which says there is no hope of a political solution, and therefore a military solution is required. A majority of people actually living in Syria would appear to disagree with that.

65% also think it is highly or very likely that Syrians can put aside their differences and live together, and 70% oppose the division of the country.

 – 82% of Syrians agree or somewhat agree that ISIS is a creation of the U.S., compared to only 41% who agree or somewhat agree that ISIS is a creation of the Syrian regime

This is where we’re supposed to roll our eyes and go ‘Those Arabs and their conspiracy theories. They blame the West for everything!’.

But it’s worth noting that this conflict has been marked by the willingness of corporate media and mainstream analysts, who ordinarily treat inside job/false flag theories with sneering contempt, to take them seriously.

At least when it’s the Assad regime being accused of them by elements within the opposition, based on zero evidence.

But when it’s the U.S. being accused by a substantial majority of Syrians? Why, they must be insane!

So anyway:

My view on military intervention in Syria, and on the question of military intervention in general, has always been that you have to come to your own conclusions about the moral and political desirability of it. If a majority of Syrians support it, that doesn’t mean I have to. If a majority of Syrians oppose it, that doesn’t mean I have to.

But the views of the people in the targeted country do have to be given strong consideration, whether they chime with your own or not.

And this poll at least suggests that Syrians themselves aren’t quite as sold on the merits of military intervention as their would-be saviours are.

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Really shoddy Guardian article on the new U.N. report about ‘Operation Protective Edge’.

The article was written by Peter Beaumont, their Jerusalem correspondent.

The most glaring misrepresentation in it – whether it’s deliberate or not – is when Beaumont writes that:

More than 2,200 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed during the fighting, according to UN and Palestinian officials.

But what the report actually says is this:

The death toll alone speaks volumes: 2251 Palestinians were killed, including 1462 Palestinian civilians with 299 women and 551 children. – p.153

1462 dead civilians simply can’t reasonably be described as ‘hundreds’.

And by writing ‘hundreds’, Beaumont has significantly played down the death toll among Palestinian civilians.

The article also features this graphic:

Again, the graphic fails to make clear that the vast majority of Palestinian casualties were civilians, or indeed, that the vast majority of Israeli casualties were military.

I’m left wondering whether they’d have been quite so sloppy had the boot been on the other foot (i.e. the vast majority of the deaths comprising of Israeli civilians).

On the report in general: at first glance, it seems much more conservative in its conclusions than The Goldstone Report was.

The Goldstone Report accused Israel of committing Crimes against Humanity, for example, while this one doesn’t (as far as I can tell).

This despite the fact that the crimes documented in both this report and The Goldstone Report appear very similar – deliberate attacks on civilians, massive and indiscriminate fire within civilian areas, attacks on medical facilities, etc.

With, if anything, the crimes committed during ‘Operation Protective Edge’ actually being of a bigger scale than the crimes committed during ‘Operation Cast Lead’.

And while the apologists for Israeli atrocities will argue fervently that the report was inherently politicised and biased against Israel, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the opposite was true.

We’ve seen in recent months how both the U.S. and Israel can and do bring pressure to bear on the U.N. to get them to play down or whitewash Israeli crimes, and i’ll eat hay with a donkey if they haven’t been doing precisely that here.

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Obama’s hands off approach to Syria.

According to The Washington Post, the CIA are spending a billion dollars a year on arming and training ‘moderate’ rebel groups, and running guns and fighters into the country. As here:

At $1 billion, Syria-related operations account for about $1 of every $15 in the CIA’s overall budget, judging by spending levels revealed in documents The Washington Post obtained from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

U.S. officials said the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years — meaning that the agency is spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program

The CIA declined to comment on the program or its budget. But U.S. officials defended the scale of the expenditures, saying the money goes toward much more than salaries and weapons and is part of a broader, multibillion-dollar effort involving Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to bolster a coalition of militias known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army.

Much of the CIA’s money goes toward running secret training camps in Jordan, gathering intelligence to help guide the operations of agency-backed militias and managing a sprawling logistics network used to move fighters, ammunition and weapons into the country.

This is what is known in corporate media speak as ‘Obama’s hands off approach to Syria’.

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