Friday, September 29, 2006

Caught in the crossfire

"The arms trade has caused the deaths of millions of civilians - we need to bring it within the framework of international law."

Richard Wilson, a founder member of this blog and author of Titanic Express, writes in Comment is Free on the international arms trade and the need for control. Slightly off the beaten path of this blog but compelling nonetheless.

"It's the white people supplying the weapons in Africa - now you're going to feel what it's like," my sister Charlotte was told, shortly before being gunned down by members of the Forces pour la Liberation Nationale (FNL) armed group in war-torn Burundi. The UK post-mortem found that she had been shot seven times in the back with an eastern European semi-automatic rifle. Her killers may have been illiterate members of a ragtag peasant army, but they knew where the guns were coming from.

In the five years since, I've been haunted by the idea that the man who sold them those guns might be walking the same streets as me here in London, drinking in the same pubs, and catching the same tube trains. While the violence ravaging Central Africa might seem distant and unreal, it begins here, in Europe, where the guns and bullets are made, and many of those brokering the sales are British or Britain-based.

Charlotte was one of 21 people murdered when a bus, the inauspiciously-named "Titanic Express", was ambushed close to the Burundian capital in December 2000. It was one among hundreds of similar attacks. Bullets recovered from the notorious August 2004 Gatumba refugee camp massacre - in which more than 150 Congolese Tutsis died - have been traced to as far afield as Bulgaria, Serbia and China.

More than 300,000 people - mostly civilians - have died in Burundi's bloody conflict since 1993. In the wider region - Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo - the death toll runs into the millions. The financial cost, too, is devastating. Across Africa, $15bn is lost every year through the impact of war, cruelly undermining prospects for economic development. Poverty, inter-ethnic rivalries, and a culture of impunity all play a part in fuelling the violence. But without the ready and abundant supply of guns and ammunition, these conflicts would be far less deadly.

Each year, arms manufacturers produce enough bullets to kill every man, woman and child on the planet, twice. Each day, 1,000 more people die through gun violence, most of them civilians like Charlotte. The world over, armed groups exploit the easy availability of guns to wage war against governments and against each other, catching civilian populations in the crossfire. Yet there are no internationally agreed standards regulating small arms sales.

As a result, the arms trade is out of control. Most of the suffering is in the developing world; while most of the profits are here in the west. But neither are we in the west immune, as my family knows all too well. Britons, being global travellers, are at risk from the global flood of guns. And the sheer volume of guns and bullets being manufactured means some inevitably find their way into the hands of criminals and terrorists in the UK. It's in all of our interests to get the small arms trade under control.

Three years ago, Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) launched the Control Arms campaign for the creation of an international arms trade treaty (ATT). The principle is simple: no transfers of guns, bullets, grenades or mortars should be allowed to places where they are likely be used in human rights abuses against civilians. Countries that sign the treaty will be agreeing to place strict limits on the movement of weapons from and through their territories.

The idea has won support from governments around the world, with Britain in the lead. More than a million people in 140 countries have joined the Million Faces petition online, and yesterday we held a global day of action for the arms trade treaty. Next month the UN general assembly will consider whether to begin the process of developing the ATT. Yet despite this momentum there are signs of backsliding. An international meeting today will discuss the resolution on the ATT, which the UK is promoting for the general assembly. However, that resolution fails to mention human rights, which should be the central principle of the ATT.

Today's meeting at the Foreign Office will be a major opportunity to get things back on track. In the name of my sister and those who died with her, I hope that we grasp it. We will not make poverty history, nor be sure of our own security, until this bloody trade is brought within the framework of international law.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Lawless World: More evidence emerges of Blair's complicity with the White House

From The Independent

Tony Blair turned "a blind eye to intelligence" and failed to challenge George Bush over claims that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons, according to new claims published this week.

A note of a private meeting between Mr Blair and President Bush in January 2003 shows that Tony Blair failed to confront Mr Bush when he claimed Saddam Hussein had tried to buy aluminium tubes for nuclear weapons production.

Mr Blair did not contradict the President despite having received "private briefings" which indicated that the aluminium tubes were more likely to be for conventional weapons, according to the new edition of a book by the international lawyer Philippe Sands published tomorrow. The claims in a new US edition of the book, Lawless World: Making and Breaking Global Ruleswill raise fresh questions about whether Mr Blair played a secondary role to President Bush.

"When Bush and Blair discussed the aluminium tubes at their White House meeting on 31 January 2003 they appear to have done so by turning a blind eye to intelligence that had been made available to them but was unhelpful to their chosen course of action," the book says. "Assuming this to be the case, it can only reinforce the suspicion that mutual convenience caused the two leaders to misrepresent the intelligence to shore up their claim to war."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Concern over UK troop casualties surface in the mainstream

The British Army is sustaining higher casualties in Afghanistan than official figures suggest, a senior officer has suggested in an army newsletter. In the Fusiliers' newsletter Major John Swift, a commander in Afghanistan, said political rather than military imperatives are driving the operation.

Casualty numbers were very significant and show no signs of reducing, he said. It comes just days after Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said the operation was harder than expected. The major pointed out that some have argued many casualties are being treated in the field and, therefore, were not getting into the official statistics for wounded in action.

Conservative defence spokesman Liam Fox said: "If the government fail to tell the public the truth and the truth comes out, as the truth tends to come out, I think that will undermine the public's trust in the government's handling of this whole issue."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Don't mention the war! MP for Forest Gate refuses to raise the question of Iraq at Labour Party conference

Lyn Brown, Labour MP for West Ham, the constituency that includes Forest Gate, has refused to raise the issue of the Iraq war at the Labour party conference.

Despite being the MP for an area of London much affected by the anger generated by the invasion and the resulting increase in terrorism and anti-terrorism policing, the MP has said she will not raise the issue at the conference as she thinks it would not be 'effective'.

As a former resident of Forest Gate the 'war-on-terror' has come close to home on at two occasions; firstly when a colleague at work died during the 7/7 bomb attacks and secondly, when the police recently raided a house and shot an innocent man and assaulted resident families.

The role of the Iraq invasion in stimulating terrorist activity and the resulting backlash from security forces is now widely accepted. Indeed you would have to be hopelessly naive or completely corrupt to deny otherwise. The Forest Gate shooting again emphasized to me the importance of dealing with what happened in 2002-2003 and learning the lessons. We cannot effectively move forward out of the current disastrous mess until this is achieved. So, with this in mind I emailed my MP on a number of occasions to urge her to use the supposedly democratic forum of a party conference to raise this matter of national importance and call for a full independent enquiry.

I first had to eat humble pie as I was not aware that she had in fact already signed EDM 1088, a parliamentary motion that calls for a "review [of] the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in relation to Iraq and all matters relevant thereto, in the period leading up to military action in that country in March 2003 and in its aftermath."

Having got up to speed on this on the 5th June I wrote:

Dear Lyn
My sincere apologies for my error and thanks a lot for signing this EDM. Making it happen is of course a different level of challenge but I hope things will move at your party conference. Will you have an opportunity to raise it as an issue at this coming forum?

She replied the same day:

I feel that MP's from outside of city areas need to be engaged and understand that the concerns are shared by their own constituents. I think it is that type of pressure, not sessions or fringe events at a conference that builds a weight of opinion that moves party policy.

An abridged version of our continuing email exchange went like this:

Thank you for this response.
It is good that we seem to share a view on this issue.
However, it is disappointing that you seem to saying that you are not
prepared to raise the issue at the party conference. Please! What are
conferences for if not to debate and define policy. Ok, ok, naive
question I realize but there was a time...

Surely by now Labour MPs could summon the courage to raise their heads above the parapet? No one is asking MPs to demonstrate the conviction or sense of purpose of Walter Wolfgang. But surely you can manage something?

Thank you for your e-mail. Might I suggest you re-read my e-mail to you. It did not contain a refusal to be brave - what it offered was a
suggestion on how to be effective

I am afraid I am not convinced by your effectiveness argument. As current events all to clearly illustrate the Labour party desperately needs people to stand up and say what is acceptable and what is not. Relying on constituents to write letters expressing views on your behalf is not a substitute for action and is not likely, by itself, to be effective. You say that "I feel that MP's from outside of city areas need to be engaged and understand that the concerns are shared by their own constituents" but say nothing about how you are proposing to go about this.

I am truly sorry you are not convinced by my arguments.
I will seek not to disappoint you in the future

Lyn Brown

I take it from your last message that are intending to take no further action on this issue. It is indeed disappointing.

So that's it. No mention of the war at the party conference will be made. The elephant will remain tight lipped in the corner of the room and our gallant MPs will continue to plough the furrow of democracy through this green and pleasant land. Makes me proud to be British!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

MOD admits failures in casualty reporting system

With casualties continuing to rise on all sides in both Iraq and, particularly, Afghanistan, we return again to the subject of casualty reporting. On this blog we have documented the failure of the British MOD to release accurate figures, even for its own troops. Our concerns have been mirrored by research published in the medical journal the Lancet. Only via various Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have we started to get to grips with what the true costs have been to the servicemen fighting in these two intractable conflicts.

The refusal by the MOD to account fully for British casualties has been partially excused by their claim that records were not kept centrally and therefore could not be accessed or collated. While this appears, even to the generous, to be somewhat unlikely, the MOD has now itself written to say that centralized records have been available since April 2005, well before they stated their claim to the contrary. In a letter dated 3rd July 2006 they say:

"You also asked about Notification of casualty reporting. The Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) is the single point of contact for this reporting in the MOD and maintains a database of all NOTICAS reports raised from the date of its foundation, 11th April 2005, to the present. NOTICAS reporting for all three Services was standardised with the formation of the JCCC.

However, prior to the formation of the JCCC we have no single database for NOTICAS reporting. Paper records are kept by the single service commands and efforts are underway to transfer these into electronic format. Additionally, as explained on our website, during the early phases of Operation TELIC the tempo of operations meant that the paperwork associated with the NOTICAS process was not always completed properly. As a result we cannot be certain that all our NOTICAS records covering this period are complete, particularly for less serious injuries. We have only cited figures for personnel categorised as Very Seriously Injured, whatever the cause, and Seriously Injured, whatever the cause, on our website since NOTICAS reporting of minor injuries was less reliable. These figures are currently some 40 and some 75 respectively from the start of operations to the 31st April 2006."

While they state that the JCCC was established and central records electronically kept since 11th April 2005, it appears that this data has not been made publicly available and inadequate information substituted in its place.

With casualties mounting rapidly in Afghanistan on all sides I imagine that improved reporting and transparency is not going to considered to be advantageous at the current time. The statistics provided on the MOD www site for casualties from both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be misleadingly presented. For example, there is mis-labeling of tables, and failure to include all categories of injury. Another anomaly is that the number of aeromedical evacuations from Afghanistan for Jan to July 2006 is given as 41. This is over two times higher than the figure given for all personal treated in UK and Coalition medical facilities in Afghanistan (19). Prior to medical evacuation patients would require assessment and stabilisation at medical facilities in country. The statistics provided just do not add up!

The open admission that the NOTICAS system failed to operate properly during the invasion phase of the Iraq war is an indictment of MOD administrative systems and a failure in their duty of care to the families of those who choose to serve in the UK military.

The full letter from the MOD can be downloaded from here

Monday, September 18, 2006

Time To Go!

Click for more information

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Top soldier quits as blundering campaign turns into 'pointless' war

From The Sunday Times (10th Sep)

THE former aide-de-camp to the commander of the British taskforce in southern Afghanistan has described the campaign in Helmand province as “a textbook case of how to screw up a counter-insurgency”.

“Having a big old fight is pointless and just making things worse,” said Captain Leo Docherty, of the Scots Guards, who became so disillusioned that he quit the army last month.

“All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are going to turn against the British,” he said. “It’s a pretty clear equation — if people are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would.

“We’ve been grotesquely clumsy — we’ve said we’ll be different to the Americans who were bombing and strafing villages, then behaved exactly like them.”

Docherty’s criticisms, the first from an officer who has served in Helmand, came during the worst week so far for British troops in Afghanistan, with the loss of 18 men.

They reflected growing concern that forces have been left exposed in small northern outposts of Helmand such as Sangin, Musa Qala and Nawzad. Pinned down by daily Taliban attacks, many have run short of food and water and have been forced to rely on air support and artillery.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The “TIME TO GO” UK Tour, September 2006

During September, Craig Murray is speaking at a number of events leading up to the Manchester 'Time to Go' demonstration on the 23rd and beyond. The updated schedule/toured now looks like this and replaces the version posted previously:

Tuesday 5 September 7.30pm The Crossing, Walsall

Wednesday 6 September 7.30pm Didsbury Mosque

Thursday 7 September 7.30pm Labour Club, Lloyd St, Stockport

Friday 8 September 7.30pm Blue Flame Community Centre, High St, Daubhill, Bolton

Monday 11 September 7.00pm St Barnabus Church, Grove Road, Bow

Tuesday 12 September 7.30pm 123 Park Building, Guildhall Square, University of Portsmouth

Wednesday 13 September 7.15pm The Liner Hotel, Lord Nelson St, Liverpool

Thursday 14 September 7.00pm Blackfriars Hall, St Andrew's Plain, Norwich

Friday 15 September 5.00pm University of Surrey

Monday 18 September 7.00pm St Albans

Tuesday 19 September 7.30pm Town Hall, St Aldates, Oxford

Wednesday 20 September 3.00pm Camp Democracy, National Mall, Washington DC

Saturday 23 September 1.00pm Albert Square Manchester - National Stop the War demo

Sunday 24 September 10.30am Roscoe Building, Brunswick St, University of Manchester

Saturday 30 September 7.30pm University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Monday 2 October 1.00 pm University of Columbia, New York

Wednesday 4 October 9.00am Fringe Meeting, Conservative Party Conference, Bournemouth

Wednesday 4 October 7.00pm Hammersmith Library, Shepherd's Bush Road

Wednesday 11 October 7.00pm Trinity College Historical Society, Dublin

Thursday 12 October 7.30pm Theatre Workshop, 34 Hamilton Place, Edinburgh

Friday 13 October 9.00pm Edinburgh Independent Radical Book Fair

Saturday 14 October 11.00am Brighton Peace Conference

Tuesday 17 October CRAIG'S BIRTHDAY!

For more info on the other 'Time to Go' events being organised go here