The UK Parliament is presenting itself as a complete joke. Rather than looking into controlling the GCHQ (the UK’s equivalent to the NSA), it has instead held a hearing to interrogate and threaten Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger for actually reporting on the Snowden leak documents and revealing the widespread abuses of the intelligence community. The hearing included the insulting and ridiculous question: “do you love this country?”
Committee chair, Keith Vaz: Some of the criticisms against you and the Guardian have been very, very personal. You and I were both born outside this country, but I love this country. Do you love this country?
Alan Rusbridger: We live in a democracy and most of the people working on this story are British people who have families in this country, who love this country. I’m slightly surprised to be asked the question but, yes, we are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can, in this country, discuss and report these things.
Perhaps equally ridiculous: after UK Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the destruction of Guardian hard drives, urged the Parliament to start this very investigation and flat out threatened news publications for reporting on government abuse, folks in Parliament have the gall to suggest that it’s Rusbridger who broke the law in sharing some of the Snowden docs with the NY Times? Maybe if Cameron hadn’t done everything he could to try to stifle a free UK press, the Guardian wouldn’t have felt the need to share documents with a competitor.
Conservative MP Michael Ellis: Mr Rusbridger, you authorised files stolen by [National Security Agency contractor Edward] Snowden which contained the names of intelligence staff to be communicated elsewhere. Yes or no?
Rusbridger: Well I think I’ve already dealt with that.
Ellis: Well if you could just answer the question.
Rusbridger: I think it’s been known for six months that these documents contained names and that I shared them with the New York Times.
Ellis: Do you accept that that is a criminal offence under section 58(a) of the Terrorism Act, 2000?
Rusbridger: You may be a lawyer, Mr Ellis, I’m not.
And from there it took a turn to the bizarre as Ellis started talking about how Rusbridger might reveal that GCHQ agents were gay. I’m not kidding.
Ellis: Secret and top-secret documents. And do you accept that the information contained personal information that could lead to the identity even of the sexual orientation of persons working within GCHQ?
Rusbridger: The sexual orientation thing is completely new to me. If you could explain how we’ve done that then I’d be most interested.
Ellis: In part, from your own newspaper on 2 August, which is still available online, because you refer to the fact that GCHQ has its own Pride group for staff and I suggest to you that the data contained within the 58,000 documents also contained data that allowed your newspaper to report that information. It is therefore information now that is not any longer protected under the laws and that jeopardises those individuals, does it not?
Rusbridger: You’ve completely lost me Mr Ellis. There are gay members of GCHQ, is that a surprise?
Ellis: It’s not amusing Mr Rusbridger. They shouldn’t be outed by you and your newspaper.
[Brief inaudible exchange in which both men are talking]
Rusbridger: The notion of the existence of a Pride group within GCHQ, actually if you go to the Stonewall website you can find the same information there. I fail to see how that outs a single member of GCHQ.
Ellis: You said it was news to you, so you know about the Stonewall website, so it’s not news to you. It was in your newspaper. What about the fact that GCHQ organised trips to Disneyland in Paris, that’s also been printed in your newspaper, does that mean if you knew that, information including the family details of members of GCHQ is also within the 58,000 documents – the security of which you have seriously jeopardised?
Rusbridger: Again, your references are lost to me. The fact that there was a family outing from GCHQ to Disneyland … [CUT OFF]
There was much more in the hearing, with multiple UK members of parliament making statements that suggest that they are ignorant of a variety of things, including how encryption works and the nature of a free and open press.
But, really, just the fact that they’re spending time investigating Rusbridger in the first place, rather than looking more closely at what the GCHQ is doing, makes a complete mockery of the UK Parliament.
The United Nations is set to carry out an investigation into the spying activities of the US and UK, a senior judge has said. The probe will examine the espionage programs and assess whether they conform to UN regulations.
UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC told British newspaper The Guardian that the UN will conduct an inquiry into the NSA and the GCHQ’s spying antics. Following Edward Snowden’s revelations, which blew the whistle on both agencies’ intelligence gathering programs, Emmerson said the issue was at “the very apex of public interest and concerns.”
The report will broach a number of contentious issues, said Emmerson, including whether Snowden should be granted the legal protection afforded to a whistleblower, whether the data he handed over to the media did significant harm to national security, whether intelligence agencies need to scale down their surveillance programs and whether the UK government was misled about the extent of intelligence gathering.
“When it comes to assessing the balance that must be struck between maintaining secrecy and exposing information in the public interest, there are often borderline cases,” Emmerson told The Guardian.
Emmerson also mentioned the raid this summer on The Guardian’s London offices in search of hard drives containing data from Snowden. Addressing the allegations made by the chiefs of British spy agencies MI5, GCHQ and MI6, that publishing Snowden’s material was “a gift to terrorists,” Emmerson said it was the media’s job to hold governments to account for their actions.
“The astonishing suggestion that this sort of responsible journalism can somehow be equated with aiding and abetting terrorism needs to be scotched decisively,” said Emmerson, who will present the conclusions of his inquiry to the UN General Assembly next autumn.
Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger is set to appear before a Commons home affairs committee in a hearing about the newspaper publishing of Snowden’s security leaks. British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement in September, warning of a possible crackdown if media continued to publish information on covert intelligence gathering programs.
He said the government had not yet been “heavy-handed” in its dealings with the press, but it would be difficult not to act if the press does not “demonstrate some social responsibility.” Cameron added that the UK was a more dangerous place after the Guardian published Snowden’s material.
Snowden’s revelations of the international spying activities of the UK and US have embarrassed the White House and Downing Street. Recent leaks show that the NSA and GCHQ not only monitored millions of civilian communications using programs such as PRISM and Tempora, but also eavesdropped on high-profile businessmen and politicians. Moreover, it was revealed that the NSA also spied on the UN’s headquarters in New York.
Both nations have sought to justify their intelligence gathering programs as being in the interests of national security.
A senior United Nations official responsible for freedom of expression has warned that the UK government’s response to revelations of mass surveillance by Edward Snowden is damaging Britain’s reputation for press freedom and investigative journalism.
The UN special rapporteur, Frank La Rue, has said he is alarmed at the reaction from some British politicians following the Guardian’s revelations about the extent of the secret surveillance programs run by the UK’s eavesdropping center GCHQ and its US counterpart the NSA (National Security Agency), it was reported in the Guardian.
“I have been absolutely shocked about the way the Guardian has been treated, from the idea of prosecution to the fact that some members of parliament even called it treason. I think that is unacceptable in a democratic society,” said La Rue.
Speaking to the Guardian La Rue said that national security cannot be used as an argument against newspapers for publishing information that is in the public interest even if doing so is embarrassing for those who are in office.
The Guardian as well as other major world media organizations including the New York Times, the Washington Post and Der Spiegel began disclosing details about the US and UK’s mass surveillance programs in June, after receiving leaked documents from former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden.
The publications have sparked a huge global debate on whether such surveillance powers are justified, but in Britain there have been calls for the Guardian to be prosecuted and the editor, Alan Rusbridger, has been called to give evidence to the home affairs select committee.
The Prime Minister David Cameron has even warned that unless the newspaper begins to demonstrate some social responsibility, then he would take “tougher measures” including the issuing of D notices, which ban a newspaper or broadcaster from touching certain material.
While on Friday the New York Times wrote an editorial entitled “British press freedom under threat”. It said, “Britain has a long tradition of a free inquisitive press. That freedom, so essential to democratic accountability, is being challenged by the Conservative-Liberal coalition government of Prime Minster David Cameron.”
The op-ed added that Britain, unlike the US has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom.
“Parliamentary committees and the police are now exploiting that lack of protection to harass, intimidate and possibly prosecute the Guardian newspaper,” the leader read.
Frank La Rue’s intervention comes just days after a delegation of some of the world’s leading editors and publishers announced they were coming to Britain on a “press freedom mission”.
The trip is being organized by the Paris based, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), and will arrive on UK soil in January. WAN-IFRA says it will include key newspaper figures from up to five continents and that this is the first mission of this kind to the UK ever.
The delegation is expected to meet government leaders and the opposition, as well as press industry figures and civil society and freedom of speech organizations. Their discussions are expected to focus on the political pressure brought to bear on the Guardian.
“We are concerned that these actions not only seriously damage the United Kingdom’s historic international reputation as a staunch defender of press freedom, but provide encouragement to non-democratic regimes to justify their own repressive actions,” Vincent Peyregne, the Chief of the WAN-IFRA, told the Guardian.
newspaper posed a threat to the UK national security.
Also in October, British Prime Minister David Cameron called on The Guardian and other newspapers to show “social responsibility” in the reporting of the leaked NSA files to avoid high court injunctions or the use of D-notices to prevent the publication of information that could damage national security.
La Rue’s remarks come as an international delegation is set to visit Britain over growing concerns about press freedom in the country and a government crackdown on media reporting leaks and scandals.
Organized by the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the delegation, which includes publishers and editors from five continents, will arrive in January.
The team will reportedly meet with government, opposition figures and media representatives.
The US government has explicitly ordered Britain not to publish the contents of the four-year-long inquiry into the Iraq War carried out by Sir John Chilcot.
The administration of US President Barack Obama insists that certain parts of the Iraq Inquiry, known as the Chilcot Inquiry, could not be released as it is focused on the pre-war conspiracy hatched by the former US president George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, The Independent has revealed.
Tony Blair led Britain into the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 on the false pretext that the country’s Ba’athist regime possessed ready-to-use weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). No such arms were ever found in Iraq, but hundreds of thousands lost their lives following the invasion.
According to some leaks from the inquiry, Bush and Blair began conspiring for the Iraq War only weeks after Bush was inaugurated as the US president in 2001.
Now, the US government claims that Bush-Blair conversations and even those comments made by Blair to the inquiry are the property of the US government and has therefore decided to keep them classified.
“The US are highly possessive when documents relate to the presence of the President or anyone close to him. Tony Blair is involved in a dialogue in many of these documents, and naturally someone else is at the other end – the [US] President. Therefore this is not Tony Blair’s or the UK government’s property to disclose,” said one high-placed diplomatic source.
According to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “Chilcot, or anyone in London, does not decide what documents relating to a US President are published.”
This comes as Prime Minister David Cameron has told Chilcot in a letter that some documents needed to be “handled sensitively.”
Elaborating on Cameron’s statements, the Cabinet Office told The Independent: “It is in the public’s interests that exchanges between the UK Prime Minister and the US President are privileged. The whole premise about withholding them [from publication] is to ensure that we do not prejudice our relations with the United States.”
Therefore, the authors of the inquiry’s final report, including Chilcot and his team, are under heavy pressure not to hurt the so-called “special relationship” between Britain and the US.
It’s also expected that they will publish a neutral report in spring next year which will lack evidence to charge Blair with serious policy failures, and it may also be such a redacted report as to be meaningless and a waste of almost £8 million of British taxpayers’ money.
- Lord Owen calls for release of Blair and Bush Iraq evidence (theguardian.com)
“The following report contains disturbing images”
This is how the BBC website introduces a report by its BBC Panorama’s Syria correspondents Ian Pannell and Darren Conway on August the 30th, 2013. The story contained a video, ostensibly shot near Aleppo, Northern Syria, by an anonymous school headmaster, and documenting the aftermath of a napalm attack on his school, supposedly perpetrated by the Syrian armed forces on August 26th. According to the story, the “evil” forces of Bashar al-Assad, at a time when they had just about established their strategic advantage over the anti-government rebel forces and the foreign mercenaries they had been fighting for over two years, had found nothing better to do than attack a school, a target which presented no military interest whatsoever, with napalm – no less – just so the international media, and BBC Panorama in particular, could pick the story and broadcast it to Western audiences, in perfect timing to coincide with the British Parliament’s vote on the so-called “humanitarian intervention” in Syria, which was being pushed for by Prime Minister David Cameron, ostensibly to prevent precisely this kind of atrocities.
Were Assad’s forces really that stupid? Of course not.
It did not take long before several international commentators and observers pointed out the many implausibilities in the video and the story in general. Among them, Italian author Francesco Santoianni, showed how incongruent the whole story was, sparking the suspicion that the entire video might have been a fabrication. What follows is his analysis.
First of all, Napalm is a substance which generates temperatures between 800 and 1,200 degrees Celsius: in other words, no one has ever survived direct exposure. These physical characteristics mean that when Napalm was utilised in theatres of war, it was primarily used to defoliate areas covered with thick vegetation, and not urban areas, where white phosphorus is more often used, as the United States Armed Forces did in Falluja in 2005, and the Israeli Defence Forces did in Gaza in 2008. Nevertheless, the BBC expected its viewers to believe that Assad’s forces had employed the obsolete napalm on a school. Of course, a school with no teaching resources in sight, but somehow a swimming pool in the back. Oh, and a swing. Case closed: it MUST be a school. Although, we are told by our sources in Syria that the school year did not start until September 15: so what exactly were all those people doing in a locked-up school?
In the video, we were also shown a pair of winter shoes – not clear how they ended up there: it was after all August – and a woman’s shoe. Was all this footwear worn by the victims? How did it remain intact?
Almost every British newspaper which reported the story informed us that “The attack killed more than ten pupils and left many more seriously injured”: and yet, despite the warning against graphic images, we are not shown the bodies, or the grieving parents.
There is – to be sure – a child, seeing shaking in one scene. His skin is actually intact, and so is his hair: certainly not consistent with napalm, or anything like it. And what is the white stuff on his body? Surely, it cannot be the chemical fired from the fighter jets – that wouldn’t have left his hair intact – therefore we must assume that it’s some kind of first-aid ointment, of sorts? Whoever administered it could not even be bothered to remove the watch from the kid’s wrist. In fact, no one seems to be attending this child: the only person with some kind of interest is the cameraman.
Somewhat less convincing is a couple, seen in the video going through the well-rehearsed motions of cursing in Arabic. There is a problem though: the woman’s face is covered in that same white stuff: and the couple has just arrived to the so-called hospital, so it cannot be “some kind of first-aid ointment”. It must be the “napalm-like chemical”. We are expected to believe that a “napalm-like” chemical, fired from a fighter jet, somehow ended up sprayed on this woman’s face leaving her veil intact?
We also see what is supposed to be a makeshift hospital. On the floor, five adult males are shaking – three of them still have their clothes perfectly intact, of course – although one of them at some point stands up and walks off, having presumably decided that he’s had enough.
By the way, we keep seeing paramedics from the so-called charity Hand in Hand for Syria supposedly handling chemical burns victims without any gloves on – but wearing gas masks, for some reason. And even a dust mask: what’s that? The woman in question is of course Dr. Rola, the star of this video [segment introducing Dr. Rola]
Then, of course, we get the obligatory segment showing a distraught local, venting his powerless rage at the International Community, invariably denounced as inefficient and perennially locked in futile negotiations. The Public Relations rules dictate that such a character must be somehow connected with the tragedy (no details given), and that, when he addresses the camera, he must not speak in the local language – which would only sound like terrorist gibberish to most Western audiences: rather, he has to produce an impromptu speech in an impeccable English, so impeccable to the point of sounding scripted and well-rehearsed, or even read off a prompter. After all, these PR rules did work for Libya.
All these absurdities were exposed almost immediately after the release of the video on the BBC’s channels. So why talk about them again now?
Well, one reason is that the BBC itself, presumably after receiving dozens of complaints from viewers who didn’t appreciate their intelligence being insulted, decided to salvage what little they could from the story, and delete the biggest blooper of all. And this is where it gets creepy. Because what follows leads one to believe that this was not the case of the BBC naively buying into a story packaged and sold to them by the anti-Assad PR machine (it wouldn’t have been the first time), but rather that the BBC itself actively created a product that was intended to steer the public opinion towards a more interventionist position. For such a product, there can only be one definition: propaganda.
What happened was that Human Rights activist Craig Murray, among others, realised that, between the first and the second release of the video, something was different in the lines spoken by Dr. Rola. Listen to the original one, containing references to napalm.
The reference to napalm has disappeared in the redacted version.
Both audio clips have the same identical sound quality: of course, there is very little that cannot be accomplished with the kind of technology that’s available to the British Broadcasting Corporation, thanks in part to the fact that Dr. Rola was wearing her exaggerated dust mask, which conveniently did away with all the challenges involved in dubbing, lip-synch, etc. However, the redacted audio clip must have been added at a much later stage, for reasons we have just explored, which prompts us to ask: how can we even be sure that the original audio clip was not scripted and recorded in a studio? Also, Robert Stuart, writing on the Media Lenses Forum, points out that Dr Saleyha Ahsan, featured in the new version of the video, is a filmmaker with a military background: a former Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps and a freelance current affairs journalist. Was she involved in packaging this product?
Also of interest is the fact that the Charity Hand in Hand for Syria, where Dr. Rola supposedly works as a volunteer medic, happens to sport a flag of the French colonial era on its logo – a flag now adopted by the Anti-Assad Coalition. This is an affiliation which the BBC did not see fit to disclose to its viewers.
For those who still believe in whatever is left of the BBC’s reputation for upholding the mediatic standards of fair and balanced reporting, here is some useful information about another so-called “charity”. The BBC Media Action (formerly the BBC World Service Trust), with its catchy slogan: “Transforming Lives through Media around the World”.
In an interesting report available on its website, BBC Media Action explains: “In 2008, BBC Media Action launched its three-year project ‘Socially Responsible Media Platforms in the Arab World’ with funding from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Syria News was the official Syrian partner, endorsed by the Ministry of Information on behalf of the BBC. The project aimed to set up an interactive online training platform, the Ara2 [opinions] Academy, for Syria’s journalistic and blogging communities, creating networks between the two. This reflected the changing status of bloggers in the regional media and responded to their aspiration to be seen as credible social commentators. The project also supported Syria News as an example of a sustainable independent media organisation, with managerial staff taking part in study tours in London and in business development training. BBC Media Action did not work with a local partner on blogger training, as this could have alienated and excluded parts of the blogging community. Instead, the BBC collaborated with an informal network of bloggers from across the country and recruited mentors for the distance learning system (the Ara2 Academy) who were trained at workshops in London and Damascus”.
One could not have wished for a clearer description of a Trojan horse, funded by one government in order to destabilize another. Just to go over the timeline again: the three-year BBC Action Syria Project started in 2008. The “Syrian uprising” began in February 2011.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has issued a veiled threat against the Guardian and other media organizations, calling them to stop publishing the reveals leaked by former CIA employee Edward Snowden.
Mr Cameron said that UK lawmakers have not yet been “heavy handed,” but if media does not stop such publications soon the government may employ D-Notices, official requests asking editors not to publish news items for national security reasons.
“I don’t want to have to use injunctions or D-Notices or other tougher measures. I think it’s much better to appeal to newspapers’ sense of social responsibility. But if they don’t demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act,” – Cameron told the House of Commons Monday, adding that The Guardian, in particular, has made “this country less safe.”
The Guardian first began its ongoing series based on the Snowden leaks in June, when far-reaching secret activity of the American NSA and British Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) were made public.
Recent disclosures, revealing that the US and UK have quietly monitored international allies, caused a major scandal in European community.
In July of this year GCHQ raided The Guardian’s offices and demanded the destruction of hard drives containing the Snowden files.
Although Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the paper, said the destruction would have no effect because The Guardian would continue publication from its offices in New York, the destruction continued anyway.
The UK government is mulling over changing the course on whether it should win parliament’s consent before engaging in acts of war, media reports said.
A convention was created as per former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision in 2003 to seek MPs’ approval before joining the US-led invasion of Iraq in March that year, according to which the parliament was given the right to vote over the use of force.
Now, the government is indicating that it will renege on its pledge to do the same as far as the parliament’s consent and the convention are concerned, British media reported.
Although the prime minister of Britain enjoys the power to engage in wars and he or she is not legally-bound to have the parliament’s consent, Prime Minister David Cameron was dealt a serious blow earlier this year, when as per the convention he was forced to have MPs’ endorsement in his desperate attempt to invade Syria militarily, but he failed to win the endorsement.
Again, in March 2011, when the question of Libya invasion was put to MPs, foreign secretary William Hague boasted that the government wanted to change this ancient power.
“We will also enshrine in law for the future necessity of consulting Parliament on military action”, he told the House of Commons.
However, Lib Dem Cabinet Office minister Lord Wallace of Saltaire poured cold water on the whole idea today, when he told the Commons constitution committee that the government was about to abandon its pledge.
He talked of an increasing nervousness among ministers, who believed if the convention becomes law then the government’s future decisions to launch war would create court challenges over whether those decisions were legal or not.
“Whether we should legislate on it is a large question,” said Lord Wallace.
“Legislation and judicial review go together and the government has become much more sensitive about judicial review of military action”, he added.
Lord Wallace said while the government was happy to obey the convention that parliament be asked for its consent, it was “very hesitant” about going any further.
“Once one gets the legal dimension into it, it might be entering an area of morass rather than of certainty,” he said.
“The government has an evolving position on this,” he revealed. “It is a great deal more complex than one thought, the definition of armed conflict and deployment of armed forces has all sorts of ragged edges.”
This comes as the parliament’s consent in launching wars has its own critics and advocates.
Critics say getting parliament’s consent would cause delays in deployment when a rapid action is needed. But, advocates believe prime minister enjoys too much power as far as the issue of launching wars is concerned and that decisions about war and peace should be made by parliament.
The British government has launched a new debate on reintroducing mandatory National Service, or conscription, for the 18 to 26-year-olds, 50 years after the last conscripted British soldier ended his service.
The bill was tabled by Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, who said the service can inspire young people with “self-respect, personal reliance, discipline and behavior.”
The legislation was introduced to the parliament for debate on June 24, which is considered its first reading though no debate took place at that stage.
MPs are expected to hold a second reading debate on the bill on February 28, 2014.
The bill predicts the introduction of a year-long charitable or military service that could involve care for the elderly or the disabled, work for the emergency services or service in the armed forces with a necessary “residential element” that requires participants to live away from their homes.
“Every individual who has attained the age of 18 years, and who has not attained the age of 26 years, shall be liable to serve one year of national service at some point between these years unless exempt,” the bill reads.
“Regulations shall provide that the scheme must extend the scope of the National Citizen Service and include the following elements,” it adds.
The bill, if voted into law, makes it a criminal offense to skip National Service.
The reference in the text of the proposed law to the National Citizen Service (NCS), which was introduced by Prime Minister David Cameron for the 16 and 17-year-olds in 2010, raises suspicion that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has been planning to reintroduce the long-forgotten National Service early after taking office.
NCS is now in full swing in England and offers voluntary short-time tours for individuals to take part in team projects away from home to help their community.
London first introduced conscription during the First World War in 1916, which lasted until 1919.
Another forced service was launched in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War, continuing until 1960, with the last conscripted soldiers ending their service in 1963.
The recruitment was named War Service or Military Service during the wars and National Service, as formulated by the National Service Act 1948, between 1948 and 1960.
The second national service period that started in 1939 lasted beyond the World War II (1939-1945) partly because of Britain’s involvement in the Korean War of the 1950’s.
That could be adequate precedence for the British public to fear a decade of military adventurism, including the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – not to mention the saber-rattling against Syria — has triggered the renewed call for a national service.
Indeed, the public opposition to the bill emerged from the very onset after an e-petition was launched demanding the government to “stop the National Service Bill 2013-2014”. The petition has already collected over 27,000 signatures.
It rejects the mandatory service as “unacceptable”, calling on the government to reject the bill “in its entirety” and “reassure us that non voluntary service and any residential or military style training, or service, will always be a freedom of choice”.
Under the Coalition agreement any e-petition attracting more than 100,000 signatures becomes eligible for a Commons debate.
The public concern over the new initiative has been clearly reflected in the e-petition.
“We do not want our children and grandchildren to fight and die in wars, or in training that they or we have no control over,” the petition says.
There are also concerns that the forced conscription is against the idea of a free society as compulsory recruits will have to spend a year in service with minimum wage at the end of their high school or college, when they could rather start a job or begin university education in anticipation of a difficult future amid Britain’s economic woes.
British lawmakers have rejected their government’s call for military strikes against the Syrian government, leaving the US to look elsewhere for international partners while reserving the right to act alone against Damascus.
The British House of Commons voted Thursday to defy Prime Minister David Cameron’s bid to win support for military intervention over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.
The Syrian government has firmly denied responsibility for the attacks.
Speaking in Manila Friday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel insisted Washington is still seeking an “international coalition” to take action against Assad.
“Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together,” Hagel told a news conference.
But he did not say which countries might be part of an international coalition, and his comments appeared to strike a different tone from earlier statements by White House officials suggesting the US is prepared to act alone.
Hagel said Washington respected the British parliament’s stance rejecting participation in any strikes in Syria.
“We are continuing to consult with the British as with all of our allies. That consultation includes ways forward together on a response to this chemical weapons attack in Syria,” he added.
French President Francois Hollande said the British vote against taking military action in Syria would not affect France’s will to act to against Assad.
Hollande told the daily Le Monde in an interview that he still supported taking “firm” punitive action over an attack he said had caused “irreparable” harm to the Syrian people and said he would work closely with France’s allies.
Asked if France could take action without Britain, Hollande replied: “Yes. Each country is sovereign to participate or not in an operation. That is valid for Britain as it is for France.”
Hollande said a military strike on Syria could come by Wednesday, when the French parliament is due to meet for an emergency session on Syria.
The French leader said that he would not take any decision to act unless the conditions were there to justify that.
“All the options are on the table. France wants action that is in proportion and firm against the Damascus regime,” he said.
“There are few countries that have the capacity to inflict a sanction by the appropriate means. France is one of them. We are ready. We will decide our position in close liaison with our allies.”
The British parliament’s decision also came after the failure of an improbable eleventh-hour effort by British diplomats to win UN backing for action against Bashar al-Assad at a meeting of the permanent members of the Security Council.
“It is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly,” Cameron said.
His government was defeated by 13 votes in the House of Commons in its bid for a “strong humanitarian response” to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle ruled out his country’s participation in the military strike.
Westerwelle told Saturday’s Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung that such a move had “neither been asked nor is it being considered by us”, according to pre-released comments by the paper.
“We are pushing for the United Nations Security Council to find a common position and for the work of UN inspectors to be finished as quickly as possible,” he added.
That, combined with deadlock at the United Nations, appeared to effectively sound the death knell for the idea of a broad-based Western military coalition, although other American allies might still participate.
Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman said that President Barack Obama’s decision-making “will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States.”
“He believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable.”
Earlier, envoys from the permanent five members of the UN Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – had met at UN headquarters in New York.
The 45-minute meeting was the second since Britain proposed a draft resolution to permit “all necessary measures” to protect Syrian civilians after a suspected chemical weapons attack last week.
But none of the envoys commented as they left.
Earlier in the week reports had suggested that a Western strike was imminent, but questions have been raised about the quality of the intelligence linking Assad to the attack.
The White House reached out to US lawmakers, with the president’s top aides briefing congressional leaders in a 90 minute conference call.
Some members of Congress voiced support for limited, surgical strikes, while urging the administration to continue consulting closely with the Congress.
Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House, said she agreed with House Speaker John Boehner that “there needs to be more consultation with all members of Congress and additional transparency into the decision making process and timing, and that the case needs to be made to the American people.
US warships armed with scores of cruise missiles are converging on the eastern Mediterranean, and US military officials have said they are ready to launch a powerful barrage against government targets in Syria.
Assad ally Russia has blocked all attempts to toughen international sanctions against Damascus or authorize outside force to punish or unseat Assad.
As the stand-off continues, a team of UN inspectors are investigating reports that last week’s gas attack outside Damascus killed more than 350 people, including women and children.
A UN spokesman said Thursday that the team had collected “considerable” evidence and will brief UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon soon after they leave Syria on Saturday.
“Starting tomorrow he will try to reach out to member states and take discussions forward on the question of what is happening in Syria,” the spokesman said.
Ban has appealed for the inspectors to be allowed to complete their work before the major powers decide any follow-up action.
Assad remained defiant in the face of the Western threats.
“Syria will defend itself in the face of any aggression,” state television cited him as telling a visiting delegation of Yemeni politicians.
He vowed that any attack would result in “victory” for the Syrian people.
His government has denied using chemical weapons and blamed “terrorist” rebels.
The mood among Damascus residents was fearful, while security forces prepared for possible air attacks by pulling back soldiers from potential targets and introducing tougher controls at roadblocks and hospitals.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)
Any US military action taken in response to suspected chemical weapons attacks in Syria would need to be approved by the UN Security Council, international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday.
“I think international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council. That is what international law says,” he told a press conference in Geneva.
“I must say that I do know that President Obama and the American administration are not known to be trigger-happy. What they will decide I don’t know. But certainly international law is very clear.”
The United States and its allies built their case Wednesday for likely military action against the Syrian government in the war-torn country over an alleged chemical attack on August 21, despite stern warnings from Russia.
The ramp-up of military language came as UN inspectors began a second day of investigating the sites of the alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people.
The ground for a Western military intervention in Syria was being set out by US Vice President Joe Biden, who for the first time said last week’s attack, thought to have killed hundreds, could only have been perpetrated by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
“[US President Barack Obama] believes and I believe that those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women and children should and must be held accountable,” he said.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the American military was already prepared to act if Obama gave the order –though White House aides said no final decision had been taken.
“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” Hagel told the BBC. “We are ready to go, like that.”
The Syrian government strongly denies the claims leveled against it.
“Many facts tend to prove the innocence of the Syrian government, which has been subject to false accusations,” Syrian ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari told state media.
Jaafari said such facts also showed that “armed groups have used chemical weapons in order to bring about military intervention and aggression against Syria.”
Jaafari said such facts also showed that “armed groups have used chemical weapons in order to bring about military intervention and aggression against Syria.”
The West and Turkey “have enabled terrorist groups to create a laboratory for chemical weapons on Turkish territory with materials provided by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar… and to bring these chemical weapons to Syria for use,” he alleged.
A team of United Nations inspectors reached rebel-held territory outside Damascus on Wednesday, opposition activists said.
“They have reached the town of Maleiha and are now with the rebel escorts, soon they will head to towns where the strikes happened and begin their inspections,” activist Salam Mohammed said, speaking to Reuters via Skype.
The team of arms experts boarded a convoy of six vehicles in Damascus, the photographer said. It was unclear which site they were intending to visit.
This came a day after the experts suspended their mission for one day over safety concerns.
The inspectors braved sniper fire when they began their mission on Monday but still managed to visit two field hospitals in Moadamiyet al-Sham, southwest of Damascus, and collect evidence of last week’s suspected chemical attacks.
But they were unable carry out a planned visit to a second site in Eastern Ghouta, on the Syrian capital’s northeastern outskirts, on Tuesday because their safety could not be guaranteed.
Britain joined the US in saying government forces were behind the strikes, and Prime Minister David Cameron said London and its allies had to consider whether targeted military action was required to “deter and degrade the future use of chemical weapons.”
French President Francois Hollande said his country was “ready to punish” those behind the chemical attacks and that he would meet the Syrian opposition’s leader on Thursday.
Moscow, Assad’s most powerful ally, again warned a military solution would destabilize the Middle East, and Syria’s envoy to the UN blamed rebels in the country for launching the attack to provoke international intervention.
Speaking to UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “a military solution will lead only to a further destabilization of the situation in the country and the region,” his ministry said.
Senior officials in Washington told NBC news that possible strikes against targets in Syria could take place as early as Thursday.
Analysts expect to see cruise missiles launched from US and allied submarines, ships and possibly planes, firing into Syria from outside its waters and airspace.
A military campaign in Syria is expected to be limited in scope, likely to last only several days and to target military sites but not the chemical weapons stocks themselves, sources in Washington said.
An official in Syria’s main opposition National Coalition said the group expects a Western military intervention and it has been consulted over targets, which included airports, military bases and arms depots.
“It’s a question of days and not weeks,” said Ahmad Ramadan, adding that “there have been meetings between the Coalition, the (rebel) Free Syrian Army and allied countries.”
During a news conference on Tuesday, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Damascus would defend itself.
“We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal,” he said. “The second choice is the best. We will defend ourselves.”
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on London and Washington to go to war in Syria to end what he claimed to be attacks on civilians “not seen since the dark days of Saddam”.
“People wince at the thought of intervention. But contemplate the future consequence of inaction and shudder,” said Blair who took Britain to the war in Iraq based on fabricated claims that Saddam had ready-to-launch weapons of mass destruction.
“Western policy is at a crossroads: commentary or action …. After the long and painful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand every impulse to stay clear of the turmoil …. But we have collectively to understand the consequences of wringing our hands instead of putting them to work,” he wrote in an article for The Times on Tuesday.
Blair’s comments come as there are serious qualms that the claims, led by Britain, the US and France, of Syrian government having carried out the chemical attack that allegedly killed hundreds of people on Wednesday are nothing but another deception to justify war, as was the case in Iraq.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama have been rattling sabers since Wednesday, saying they should intervene to end what Washington described as a “moral obscenity”.
However, Britain and its western allies have so far offered no evidence to support their claims against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.
The Conservative British PM will also have a hard time to persuade MPs to start a war after he was forced to promise to put any military action in Syria to parliamentary vote earlier this year after 82 Conservatives MPs signed a letter to demand such a process.
The opposition Labour party has also demanded the coalition government to ask for MPs’ approval before taking any military action.
Cameron has indicated he will consult the parliament with his office saying he could recall the parliament from a summer recess before it ends on Monday to discuss the situation in Syria.
Prime Minister David Cameron shaking hands with Israeli regime’s agent in Britain, Daniel Taub.
Ten years ago Tam Dalyell, the ‘Father of the House’ (the most senior member of the House of Commons in the British Parliament), sparked a huge row by accusing the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, of “being unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers.”
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Dalyell named Lord Levy (Blair’s personal envoy on the Middle East), Peter Mandelson (whose father was Jewish), and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary (who has Jewish ancestry), as three of the leading figures who had influenced Blair’s policies on the Middle East.
He told The Telegraph: “If it is a question of launching an assault on Syria or Iran…. then one has to be candid.” Blair, he said, was also indirectly influenced by Jewish people in the Bush administration, including Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary, and Ari Fleischer, the President’s press secretary.
Dalyell’s remarks were sad and unfounded, said Lord Janner, chairman of the Holocaust Education Trust. “Tony Blair is his own man. He will follow advice if he considers it correct and not otherwise. He has been a good friend of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”
Dalyell was misguided, said Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, a spokesman for Britain’s Reform Synagogues. “Concerning Iraq it was crystal clear that Tony Blair was not swayed by popularity or anyone else but by his own deep convictions. It is also obvious that the majority of President Bush’s circle are Christian Evangelicals rather than Jews.”
Ned Temko, the American-born editor of the Jewish Chronicle, said: “I just think these sort of comments are offensive and are a profound misunderstanding of the way foreign policy is made in the United States or here.”
Dalyell also told The Scotsman on Sunday: “Blair and Straw have become far too close to these people and Lord Levy, who is an unaccountable ambassador in the Middle East, is part of this group. They are acting on an extremely Zionist, Likud-nik agenda. In particular I am concerned that some of them are pushing for an attack on Syria, for reasons of Israeli security. ”
MP Louise Ellman, a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism, said: “This absurd proposition implies a Jewish plot in high places…”
Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a senior member of Scotland’s Jewish community, was rudely dismissive: “We all know that Tam gets bees in his bonnet and eight times out of 10 they are nuts but the other two are brilliant. This is, I’m afraid, one of the nutty ones.”
Next day the Guardian reported that Dalyell could face an investigation for inciting racial hatred. Eric Moonman, president of the Zionist Federation, was seeking advice on whether there was a case for referral. “I believe there is,” he said.
Today it is obvious that old Tam was neither nutty nor misguided. He joined the dots and saw the danger, as did many others.
‘The Torah party’
Meanwhile the Jewish cabal flourishes. A few weeks ago Ian Livingston was handpicked by Prime Minister David Cameron for the trade minister job. Cameron, who had previously broken with traditional wisdom and appointed the first Jewish ambassador to Israel, was reported by an ecstatic Times of Israel as having now decided to bring into the government possibly its most committed Jew yet, and certainly its most outspoken supporter of Israel, which Livingston called “the most amazing state in the world.”
Livingston is not elected. He’s appointed. The newspaper went on to name other top Jewish figures in the Conservative party such as co-chairs Lord Feldman and Grant Shapps MP, senior treasurer Howard Leigh, a member of the Jewish Leadership Council; and former party treasurers Richard Harrington MP and Lord Fink, another member of the JLC.
“There are so many Jews at the top of Britain’s Conservative party, Prime Minister David Cameron once quipped, that it should be known as the Torah party rather than the Tory party,” crowed the paper.
And to make the Prime Minister feel thoroughly at home in his Torah party a Jewish scholar, after tracing Cameron’s ancestry, claimed he could be “a direct descendant of Moses or, at least, a cousin”.
In case our American friends are puzzled by this Torah/Tory business, ‘Tory’ is an old 17th century name for the modern Conservative party founded in the 1830s.
Three years ago The Jewish Chronicle published a list of Jewish MPs in Britain’s parliament, naming 24. The Jewish population in the UK at that time was – and probably still is – around 280,000 or just under 0.5%. There are 650 seats in the House of Commons so, on a proportional basis, Jews could expect 3 seats. But with 24 they were 8 times over-represented. Which meant, of course, that other groups were under-represented.
The UK’s Muslim population is about 2.4 million or nearly 4%. Similarly, their quota would be 25 seats but they had only 8 – a serious shortfall. If Muslims were over-represented to the same extent as Jews (i.e. 8 times) they’d have 200 seats. Imagine the hullabaloo.
Over-representation in the House of Commons is only part of the picture. Many more Jews have been inserted into the House of Lords and other non-elected and unaccountable positions. An even bigger worry is the huge number of non-Jewish Zionists that have infiltrated every level of political and institutional life. They swell the pro-Israel lobby to such an extent that it is believed to account for 80% of the Parliamentary Conservative Party, which now rules with the Liberal Democrats as their junior coalition partner.
Too many pro-Israel MPs speak and act as if they’d rather wave the Israeli flag than the Union Jack. These ‘Israel-firsters’ never condemn the regime’s illegal occupation, apartheid-style policies, war crimes and refusal to sign up to nuclear non-proliferation, inspection and safeguards. They lock Britain (and British foreign policy) into Israel’s sickening ambitions and immorality. Defending the indefensible, as they do, inevitably raises questions for our national security, a deadly serious issue given the sheer number of Zionists now in British public life and the enemies they have made across the world, and continually provoke.
The Jewish Chronicle, in its 2006 special report ‘Team Cameron’s big Jewish backers’, revealed the support that enabled Cameron to suddenly burst into the political limelight, almost unknown, to take the Conservative leadership. With no significant achievement under his belt he was then able to manoeuvre, with the help of his backers, into Britain’s PM slot.
He is also a self-declared Zionist and voted for the war in Iraq, so how trustworthy does that make him? In a speech to Jewish fundraisers in London last year he declared: “There is no contradiction between being a proud Jew, a committed Zionist and a loyal British citizen.” How can someone who so closely aligns himself with a belligerent foreign military power like Israel hope to convince us that he’s 100 percent loyal to Britain and her interests, while once again drawing us unwillingly into conflict with Israel’s enemies, this time Iran and Syria, with whom we have no quarrel?
Cameron’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has been a member of Conservative Friends of Israel since he was 15. Hague once said: “The unbroken thread of Conservative Party support for Israel that has run for nearly a century from the Balfour Declaration to the present day will continue.”
Alistair Burt, a former officer of the Parliamentary group of Conservative Friends of Israel, is Foreign Office minister for the Middle East. And David Lidington, who has spoken of being a “staunch defender” of the State of Israel, is Foreign Office minister for Europe.
So the key stooges are safely installed and activated.
Powerless to deliver justice
It is said that becoming a Friend of Israel is a necessary stepping-stone to high office. Consequently fans of Israel are embedded at all levels in the fabric of British political life and at the heart of the Government.
When a group of concerned academics wrote to the Committee on Standards in Public Life complaining about Israel’s “deep penetration”, they were told it was not something the committee could investigate. A closer look revealed that some members of the committee had close links with Friends of Israel.
How do these Israeli flag wavers think it looks, standing shoulder to shoulder with religious fanatics and psychopaths who horribly persecute the Christian and Muslim communities of the Holy Land? It is especially offensive to see them endorsing a pseudo democracy that dishes out thuggish treatment even to children who, says the UN, are arrested by Israeli military and police and systematically subjected to degrading treatment, and often tortured. Read the report and weep.
Thanks to its misplaced admiration for Israel, the British government fails to intervene and stand up for justice. The disgrace is unbearable. Here is just one of many appalling examples. Right now Christians in that once beautiful country are under imminent threat of losing their land, their livelihood, and their way of life because an emergency law cooked up by the illegal occupier Israel, and upheld by an Israeli court, allows the Israelis to seize territory in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem. This brazen land-grab opens the way for the hated separation wall (ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice) to be extended across the valley, connecting two Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land in the eastern suburbs of Jerusalem.
The onward construction of the barrier will divide a Salesian Catholic monastery from the neighbouring Salesian Catholic convent, confiscate most of the convent’s property, and cut off 58 Palestinian families from their agricultural lands – including vineyards, olive groves, and pastures. The barrier will also separate families and surround an elementary school on three sides, forcing young children to pass through a checkpoint to go to class.
The ICJ required the wall to be dismantled, not extended. And it reminded all States party to the Fourth Geneva Convention that they are under an obligation “to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention”. That was 9 years ago. The world is still waiting. The States never act. Compliance never happens. Non-compliance is rife, and highly profitable to Israel.
And Israel’s allies, including Britain, perversely reward its non-compliance. Across the West Bank, continuing restrictions on Palestinian access to agricultural lands have led to the slow abandonment and eventual confiscation of those lands by Israeli authorities.
Israel’s Knesset has approved the first reading of the Prawer Plan to remove 40,000 indigenous Bedouin people from their ancestral homeland in the Negev. This evil scheme clears the way for the $4 billion “Blueprint Negev” project intended to transform the Negev into a majority-Jewish area even though the Bedouin have lived there for thousands of years.
At the same time one of Israel’s most dangerous lunatics, Avigdor Lieberman (chairman of the foreign affairs and defence committee), is calling for Israel, after imposing a vicious 7-year blockade, to conquer the Gaza Strip and carry out “a thorough cleansing”, just because Hamas still hasn’t succumbed to Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian homeland.
Britain could, at a stroke, bring Israel to heel and force the regime to conform to international law or face massive trade penalties.