Saturday, July 29, 2006

Lebanese civilians: quote of the day

"What we should do in southern Lebanon is employ huge firepower before a ground force goes in. Everyone in southern Lebanon is a terrorist and is connected to Hizbollah. Our great advantage vis-a-vis Hizbollah is our firepower, not in face-to-face combat."

--Israel Justice Minister Haim Ramon

h/t Mark Collins

London executioners back on the job

This past Monday was the first anniversary of the street execution of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian electrician living in London, England, who was mistaken for a terrorist in a botched police operation. I blogged about this at the time. After de Menezes was killed by officers firing several shots at point-blank range, the police concocted a story that the man had been wearing a bulky jacket, had vaulted over a subway turnstile, and had ignored police who had identified themselves as such and had repeatedly ordered him to halt. This proved to be a tissue of lies.

About the same time as the de Menezes family was in London for a memorial service, the Independent Police Complaints Commission made its report to the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS has now decided that no officer should be charged; those involved really did believe the man was a terrorist, claims a senior CPS official. Instead, Scotland Yard will be prosecuted under health and safety legislation,
sections 3 and 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to be precise. In a classic example of English understatement, the charge will be "failing to provide for the health, safety and welfare of de Menezes." Needless to say, this decision has attracted withering scorn in the British press, although this has all remained largely unreported in Canada.

On the political front, the aggrieved family has a few allies. Two London Assembly members, who also sit on the Metropolitan Police Authority, have been scathingly critical. One has called for a full public inquiry. Another, who is a Conservative as it happens, ripped into the evident closing of police ranks, calling it "repugnant and an affront to common decency" that no one was taking individual responsibility. Neither supports the current plans to prosecute, one calling it a waste of time and money. Meanwhile, Ken Livingston, Mayor of London and formerly known as "Red Ken," apparently neutered in his role by the London subway bombings, has given Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, a pass.

Sir Ian, obviously not a man who hesitates to press an advantage, is denouncing the decision to prosecute the police. And so is the Metropolitan Police Authority, although its reason is that this prosecution, denounced by one MPA member as a "cop-out," could prevent a full inquiry into the incident.

And the executioners themselves? Back on "full operational duty". But were they, too, part of a systemic failure?
If so, where does the buck stop? If no one is to be held accountable, one Member of Parliament grimly suggests, we are likely to see more "accidents" of this kind.

In any case, we aren't likely to learn the location of the buck for quite a while. The IPCC will not release its report until the diversionary health and safety trial is over. Same time next year?

h/t Metcalph's Blog.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Civilians: deconstructing a meme

First, the meme itself, as relayed by a Globe and Mail editorial today:

Hezbollah and its like intentionally kill civilians and have no compunction about it. Democratic countries like Israel accidentally kill civilians when they respond, and regret it profoundly.

And in a blog combox:

Israel does not launch unprovoked attacks on civilians, Hizbollah does. Period!

There you have it, lucidly put in both cases. Good vs. Evil. Black vs. White.
Them vs. Us. The screen of history is pulled back once again to reveal the binary dynamo of the universe.

But I'd like to return to history, and to the phenomenal world. The current carnage in the Middle East is not taking place in a metaphysical realm. Civilians are being killed, and the uncomfortable fact, less and less easily explained away, is that Israeli forces are doing most of the killing. The current respective death counts stand at 433 dead Lebanese civilians, 17 Israeli civilians, and in temporarily forgotten little Gaza, about 70 Palestinian civilians, including 31 children.

Of course civilians are killed in war. But let us return to the meme. Hezbollah, we are told, intentionally kills civilians. After all, they did fire rockets into Haifa loaded with ball-bearings. But Israel, meantime, uses anti-personnel artillery cluster munitions and white phosphorus with impunity, although both are of dubious legality. The attacks that precipitated Israel's war on two fronts were both on strictly military targets, despite an odd revisionist chronology that has appeared here and there, claiming that Hezbollah showered Israel with rockets as a precursor.* But most of the dead in Lebanon and Gaza are civilians.

Hezbollah is blamed for using civilians as cover, trading on the good graces of Israel by using human shields. But that alleged tactic is evidently not working. So an alternative theory has now emerged: Hezbollah is deliberately setting up Lebanese civilians to be killed to win a propaganda war in the West. Alan Dershowitz argues both, apparently keeping a straight face while doing so.

One imagines a Hezbollah militant, drawing his support from sympathetic sectors of the civilian population: "Let's see. We'll set up a base over here, among our village friends, because the IDF won't bomb us. Oh, gosh, they are bombing us. Well, then, let's make sure they kill as many of our friends as possible, and hope that there's a photographer around."

Meanwhile, there are disturbing reports of civilian convoys of villagers ordered by the IDF to evacuate, even Red Cross vehicles, coming under Israeli fire. These are a little harder to rationalize, but that hasn't stopped people from trying. And then we have the dead UN observers, and armies of spin-doctors working overtime to blame that one on Hezbollah too.

So it's never the people who are actually doing the killing who are to blame--it's always somebody else's fault. The Right despises mushy leftists who talk about root causes and social problems. People are responsible for their own actions, they thunder. But when it comes to Israel, the Right wins the mushy contest by far, and personal responsibility goes out the window. It's Hezbollah and Hamas to blame, it's always Hezbollah and Hamas, as though those two groups erupted out of the ground one day, ferocious and menacing and ready to do battle.

If one is going to do root causes, one should try to trace those roots a little deeper. The capture kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, which supposedly started the present conflagration, was preceded by an IDF kidnapping capture of two Palestinians in Gaza. But we must return yet again to the meme. Israel is on the side of the angels. You have to go over to the dark side to get information like that. And here's a little more: thousands of Palestinians have been "disappeared" in the past forty years.

Northern Israel is now evacuating, at least temporarily. Their citizens are moving deeper into Israel. They are not coming under fire on the roads as they try to leave, and they have homes to return to. The same cannot be said of Lebanon. Here are the words of one commentator who is generally sympathetic to Israel:

"We don't want to do any damage to the Lebanese infrastructure and clearly, we don't want to kill any civilian life in Lebanon," Shimon Peres told Wolf Blitzer on CNN yesterday.

What planet does he live on?

Israel might have conducted two weeks of precision air attacks against "legitimate" military targets, but to argue -- and not see -- that in this boilerplate targeting approach, it is civilian infrastructure, and by extension, the people of Lebanon, who are the targets, is either dishonest or blind.

Dishonest, blind--or trapped by a meme from which there is, for far too many people, no escape.

*See, for example, "Hamas [sic] is reaping the whirlwind" by George Jonas in the Ottawa Citizen on July 22, not available on-line.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Your Wednesday smile

Damian Penny, seconding US blogger Andrew Sullivan, complains of left-wing bloggers' "stunning silence on the Israel-Hezbollah war."

Uh, Progressive Bloggers? Could you jack it up just a notch?

Hey, that means you too, Robert! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


This article is prompted by two isolated sets of events, which may, in some not-too-subtle way, be connected. The first is a purulent outbreak of hatred over at the Western Standard, the gist of which can be found over at Cerberus' place. This pathetic loathe-fest is brought to you courtesy of Ezra Levant, the owner of the Standard, a person whose evidently visceral dislike of Muslims has already landed him in some minor trouble with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. A month or so before that, he attempted a hatchet-job on Liberal candidate Omar Alghabra, which I dealt with here. His place makes a comfortable home for those who feel the same way about things.

Leave no Muslim unstoned seems to be the credo over at WS. The present imbroglio was caused, in part, by a common-or-garden attack on Muslims by one of the Usual Suspects. A long series of hysterical, foamy, racist, hate-soaked words proceeded to slither into the combox, prompting a spirited post by Chris Selley, who didn't mince his own words. (What on earth is the humane and urbane commentator of Tart Cider doing posting over at the Standard anyway? But I digress.) This only led to a fresh spate of venomous comments.

Right-wing bloggers are quick to pounce on any comment from the Left that they feel crosses the line of decency. You can hear the contrived huffing and puffing clear across cyberspace. But the reaction to the poison being vomited forth at the Standard, as noted at the Cerberus site, has been...silence.

Meanwhile, back on the topic of the Middle East, differing standards are also an issue. It is a common complaint in some quarters that "Israel is held to a higher standard" than other nations, particularly Middle Eastern ones. Indeed, unquestioning supporters of Israel insist that the country not only has those higher standards, but lives by them. All civilian deaths in Lebanon and Gaza are accidental, for example, despite reports like this. Israel is a Western-style democracy in a sea of Islamofascism, fighting for its very survival against...well, Others.

Could there be a possible kernel of truth in the charge, nevertheless? I for one have certainly reflected on the possibility that some of us may be holding Israel to higher standards than its neighbours. Perhaps, in a naive fashion, some of us expected better of Israel, at least those in the crowd who imagine that suffering enobles people. (It doesn't. It hardens them, if anything.)
Maybe we do have higher expectations of a country that actually endorses those standards itself. Possibly we are indulging in the "racism of low expectations" by being less surprised by, and therefore less noisy about, the violent intolerance of theocratic regimes like Iran.

Or is a manipulative media to blame? Mark Collins over at Daimnation asks rhetorically: "Why are a few hundred dead Lebanese a crisis? And not millions of black Africans? My answers: television news; racism on the part of all non-blacks; and political agendas completely remote from any concern with real human beings, their lives, and their deaths."

I would quarrel with his answers on several counts, but it would be less than honest not to admit some difficulty in dismissing them out of hand. Blaming the media is a little problematic, I think: what processes, after all, determine what is deemed important by the media? But racism is undoubtedly part of it. Stephen Lewis has been trying to awake the conscience of the world to the pandemic AIDS crisis in Africa, with indifferent success. It is hard to imagine the same inattention were this happening in Europe or the United States. For whatever reason, in any event, the media chooses some spots and not others in which to plant its tripods.

In the case of the Middle East, though, the media might have made the only available choice. All of us are affected immediately in some way. At the level of the trivial, gas prices have risen once again. Organizations on both sides of the divide have given the war considerable profile; and significant numbers of Canadians, as we have recently learned, actually live in that part of the world. When the lens is brought to bear
, however, no matter what the reason, we can see the deaths and injuries, and feel them. There is nothing inconsistent in that reaction; we know, for example, that the grief of a single family closer to home can result in a massive outpouring of emotion. We don't react to death based on numbers: that's not how empathy works.

We invoke our common standards when we see what we can't accept or rationalize. We are now looking, every day, at the on-the-ground results of conflict in the Middle East. I think that there is merit--and I don't know whether we should be criticized for this or not--in the suggestion that our expectations of Israel might be higher than those we hold of an irregular non-state armed force calling itself the Army of God. Although the latter isn't doing much of the killing at present.

In any case, when we see the pictures and hear the reports, it is Lebanese civilians whom we encounter, in extremis. And our aroused feelings demand that we lay blame. But many are not predisposed to see Muslims/Arabs in a sympathetic light; crude propagandists like Ezra Levant bear their share of responsibility
for constructing that threatening, cartoonish Other, although more mainstream commentators, journalists and editors do their bit as well. Israel gets a far better press in these parts, and Muslims do not fare as well as Jews in this venue. Imagine substituting the words "Jew" and "Jewish" for the Islamic references in the Western Standard commentaries and the point becomes obvious. The human suffering brought to you by satellite TV, therefore, will be blamed on the guys with the black hats, not the white ones. And that's human, isn't it?

Our personal sense of the Middle East conflict arises immediately from empathy. We experience that most essential of emotions in a multitude of ways, and our rational frameworks are
then forced into play. We reach radically different conclusions because those frameworks are socially constructed, and part of that construction is the too often unreflected-upon, mediated image of the Other.

Perhaps we can at least agree, though, that comparing tragedies around the world makes little sense. Our response, as the tsunami relief effort indicated, depends very much on where the camera is pointed. A few hundred dead Lebanese civilians do not mean any less because genocide is being practised in Darfur, largely out of our sight and without much media attention. W
e need to question more closely why we are allowed to see some things and not others; how it is decided what the media will mediate, and how--because we are affected by what we see, and the media are our eyes. But in the final analysis, in or out of sight, numbers don't matter. Last word to Kenneth Patchen:

The Fox

Because the snow is deep
Without spot that white falling through white air

Because she limps a little - bleeds
Where they shot her

Because hunters have guns
And dogs have hangman's legs

Because I'd like to take her in my arms
And tend her wound

Because she can't afford to die
Killing the young in her belly

I don't know what to say of a soldier's dying
Because there are no proportions in death.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

On anti-Semitism (2)

The Middle East is where short tempers were born. One runs a risk in even attempting to discuss the notion of anti-Semitism in that flammable context. It is important to step lightly and heavily at the same time. Almost inevitably one is suspected of the sin for trying to make the necessary fine and not-so-fine distinctions. The gleeful decoder/propagandists will tell you what “critical of Israel” must mean; nothing less than full support is without its hazards.

This is not of course to say that there are no genuine anti-Semites in the mix. Obviously there are, and by that I mean that they are obvious—they stand out. The President of Iran comes immediately to mind, with his bone-headed introduction of Holocaust-denial into the current debates, and he’s not alone in that part of the world. Closer to home we have Hal Turner and David Duke. Anti-Semites can’t be expected to approve of any Jewish project whatsoever, and you’ll find, therefore, no friends of Israel in that quarter. But they are no friends of progressives, either, and we are no friends of theirs.

I hasten to qualify the second-last statement. Israel, to be sure, can fairly be characterized as a “Jewish project.” History tells us so, from the Balfour Declaration onwards, and that’s only recent history. But there are non-Zionist and indeed anti-Zionist Jews, and, perhaps more germane to this discussion, there are fervent supporters of Israel who happen to be non-Jewish and non-Israeli. It is that latter group that needs a closer look. Before doing so, however, we need to try to disentangle, at least for the purposes of argument, that which cannot be readily disentangled, if at all—“Israel” and “the Jewish people."

I will admit that this is a daunting task. In France, there are “the French.” In Israel, on the other hand, we find adherents of a form, or more properly several forms, of Israeli nationalism, under the umbrella term of Zionism, and at the same time a second identity: Jewishness. Jews, with their multiplicity of cultures, languages, traditions and histories, may have in some way formed a "community," but if community it was, it lacked a nationalism until the development of Zionism.

Israel has filled that void, and it is for this reason close to the hearts of those in the Jewish Diaspora, even, it must be admitted, of those Jews who are hostile to its aims and policies. Israel is not just a territory and not just a state comme les autres. The majority of its inhabitants are at once Jews and Israelis. There is a double identity here, far more profound than that of the so-called “hyphenated Canadian."

In this sense Israel is genuinely like no other country in the world. It is home and refuge not only to its own citizens, but, by law, to the citizens of many other countries. Forged out of the Holocaust, which claimed six million Jewish victims among the twelve million who perished in it, Israel is a conjuncture of state, land, history, myth,
nationalist ideology, a multitude of peoples, a state of mind.

I do not here want to revert to the competing claims on the land. Suffice it to say that it was never terra nullius. For the purposes of this article, I want simply to underline the obvious: one cannot speak of Israel and ignore the Jews. The underlying reality, the unique double nature of the country, is laid bare when one appears too antagonistic to that state’s aims and policies. We are not accused of simply being anti-Israeli, which would be bad enough—opposition to state policy should not be taken as opposition to the subjects of the state. We are accused, rather, of anti-Semitism—of the so-called “new anti-Semitism” about which a substantial literature has already accumulated.

This phenomenon, taken so readily for granted by so many, is actually the subject of contentious debate among Jews and non-Jews alike. It's a bit of a grab-bag, in fact; the first books on the subject appeared in the early 1970s and were concerned with a resurgence of the old anti-Semitism emanating from the usual suspects on the Right. Only a few years later, the concept was linked to the Left, which had by that time taken up the Palestinian cause in earnest, while the Right had embraced Israel for a number of reasons ranging from the religious to the strategic.

This is not to say that the entire debate comes down to a kind of verbal proxy war between progressives and conservatives, but it must be said that Israel is obviously a site of ideological struggle. The distinctions that some commentators labour to make between, for example, anti-Semitism and "Israelphobia," between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" criticism of Israel, are too often completely erased in that wider conflict.

Lost also in the fog of these wars is the reason for the intensity of the original debate: the fate of European Jews at the hands of the Nazis and their allies, and the much longer history of persecution that, as Jean-Paul Sartre for one has has argued, may be the defining fact of Jewish identity (although, like so many of his summings-up, this seems unsatisfactorily narrow).

In any case, if Israel is not a nation like the others, anti-Semitism is not a prejudice like the others. There is a hierarchy of hatreds in our society, and Jew-hatred is at the very top. What influence can be mustered will be mustered by any people with such a history. Further influence will be exercised by those who have their own ideological reasons for doing so. But the result has been that one community is relatively privileged in comparison to other communities, which in fact suffer a kind of erasure. When neo-Nazis attack a Tamil or a Roma, spokepeople from those communities are not even consulted by the media. Instead, Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress can be counted upon for a comment. And when it comes to Israel, the same voice is raised.

I am not here insisting that it not be: that would simply
be foolish. The voice will be heard, for perfectly plausible reasons. But other voices need to be heard as well; those of other dispossessed or persecuted peoples and groups, and those of individuals who attempt, although the discursive space is lacking, to critique Israel as though it were simply another nation-state. Instead, such critiques are regularly undermined by, on the one hand, Jewish spokespersons who are so fiercely protective of Israel that they will readily silence or discredit critics with a temptingly handy label; and, on the other, conservatives who brandish that self-same label for their own political purposes. There is little genuine debate that can take place in such a climate.

And of course one of the unfortunate consequences of this is the hollowing out of the very notion of anti-Semitism, something that must give true anti-Semites considerable aid and comfort. I will conclude this post, therefore, by giving the last measured word on the subject to Brian Klug, writing in The Nation:

In his contribution to A New Antisemitism?, historian Peter Pulzer, faulting the way "the liberal press" sometimes reports the activities of the Israel Defense Forces in the occupied territories, makes a telling point about the misuse of words. He says: "When every civilian death is a war crime, that concept loses its significance. When every expulsion from a village is genocide, we no longer know how to recognize genocide. When Auschwitz is everywhere, it is nowhere." Point taken. But equally, when anti-Semitism is everywhere, it is nowhere. And when every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, we no longer know how to recognize the real thing--the concept of anti-Semitism loses its significance.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

On anti-Semitism (1)

The Israeli state's on-going attack on Lebanon has resulted to date in hundreds of dead civilians and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Lebanese displaced from their homes. An entire nation continues to be terrorized by Ehud Olmert’s “No one is exempt” policy. At this point, in fact, Lebanon has indeed been set back twenty years, if not more, fulfilling in its smashed infrastructure and traumatized population the obscene boast of Israeli officials.

Were we talking about any other nation than Israel, we could simply have the debate. Not all would agree with my characterization of the conflict, above. Some might call it incomplete, badly phrased, antagonistic, over-simplified. That's fair enough: I can defend my position, and the discussion, in any case, is not likely to end anytime soon.

Were the country in question France, or New Zealand, though, one could make such comments without being labelled "anti-French" or "anti-Kiwi." The obvious difference between government policy and the people make such notions absurd to the feel. Even at the height of Stalin's atrocities, for example, I can find no references to his critics being called "anti-Georgian."

But Israel is different. Phil McNeely, the Ottawa-area MPP who dared to utter criticisms of that country's current adventures in the Middle East, has learned this to his cost. Rather than engage him in debate, the Canadian Jewish Congress immediately demanded that he "retract" his statements. The Ontario Premier expressed "serious dismay and disappointment." The Ottawa Citizen is full of angry letters today, accusing McNeely of everything from anti-Semitism to mental illness. Against McNeely's statement that it is dangerous for critics of the Israeli state to speak out, one writer argued that this very claim indicated "an insidious old-fashioned anti-Semitism." Ironically, the correspondent nicely made McNeely's point for him.

For commenting perhaps too bluntly about the human cost of Israel's two-front adventure, I myself have been accused of anti-Semitism. This is the vile comment in full:

Welcome to the "reality-based" world of the Left. A reality where the only Jew is the Eternal Jew.

To his considerable credit, Mark Collins, the writer of the piece where this comment later appeared, has asked the author to apologize. But I won’t hold my breath. Welcome, everyone, not to the "new anti-Semitism," but to the new McCarthyism. Look around. It’s everywhere.

Over at Small Dead Animals, none other than the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, stands accused. "Scratch a socialist," Kate McMillan states, such insouciant slander being the current stock-in-trade of much of the Right, "and underneath you’ll find an anti-Semite." Somehow, in the pretzel logic that passes for thought in some quarters, the al-Qaeda bombing of Spanish trains, causing terrible loss of life, led straight to anti-Semitism.

Zapatero, according to a scurrilous article in Ynet News, is guilty on two counts, or maybe three. Our suspicions are aroused by the fact that the charges made in this badly-translated and often incoherent rant appear nowhere else, other than in screechy right-wing blogs whose commentary inevitably leads back to this one source. Here, in any case, is the bill of account:

First, Zapatero had the effrontery to put a "Palestinian kaffiyah" around his neck when the object in question was handed to him by a student—putting me in mind of the old joke, here paraphrased: "My mother made me a Palestinian." "If I give her the yarn, will she make me one too?" Through sympathy, at least, many "Palestinians" are indeed being made these days. But takes more than a scarf to make an anti-Semite.

Secondly, it took too long, says the writer, to shut down a Hizbollah television channel, Al Manar, that was broadcasting in Spanish to Latin America by satellite. (More on that here.)

Finally, the biggie:
Mr. Zapatero and his wife were having dinner with the distinguished Jewish Bennaroch family, and proceeded to abuse their hospitality by

claiming what Vidal Quadras, member of the European Parliament, described on the radio as "a tirade of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. By the moment the Benarroch couple had left the table to express their regrets, Zapatero was explaining his lack of surprise about the Holocaust: according to the people present, Zapatero claimed to understand the Nazis.”

Now we know this precisely how? This incident, which allegedly occurred last December 5, is not recorded anywhere else but in that illiterate Ynet article. Such a thing, of course, would have been front-page news had it really happened. Instead it comes to us third-hand, courtesy of one Vidal Quadras. Who is this Quadras, anyway?

As it happens, it's not that difficult to track him down. He's a conservative opponent of Mr. Zapatero, and he writes a blog with entries like this one, soberly entitled "The lunatic Spain of Zapatero." Kate McMillan ought to link to him. Even with his evident pith and vinegar, though, and his undoubted connections, the best Quadras could muster in the way of planting this juicy piece of gossip was one squib in Ynet News, which then, as noted, oozed through the usual pipelines into the blogosphere.

All this is eerily similar to the hatchet-job that was attempted this past January on Hugo Chavéz, the popular president of Venezuela. The charge of anti-Semitism this time was sparked by a Christmas Eve speech given by the president. Here's the original, followed by the translation:

El mundo tiene para todos, pues, pero resulta que unas minorías, los descendientes de los mismos que crucificaron a Cristo, los descendientes de los mismos que echaron a Bolívar de aquí y también lo crucificaron a su manera en Santa Marta, allá en Colombia. Una minoría se adueñó de las riquezas del mundo, una minoría se adueñó del oro del planeta, de la plata, de los minerales, de las aguas, de las tierras buenas, del petróleo, de las riquezas,pues, y han concentrado las riquezas en pocas manos: menos del diez por ciento de la población del mundo es dueña de más de la mitad de la riqueza de todo el mundo y a la...más de la mitad de los pobladores del planeta son pobres y cada día hay más pobres en el mundo entero.

The world is for all of us, then, but it so happens that a minority, the descendants of the same ones that crucified Christ, the descendants of the same ones that kicked Bolivar out of here and also crucified him in their own way over there in Santa Marta, in Colombia -- a minority has taken possession of all the wealth of the world, a minority has taken ownership of all of the gold of the planet, of the silver, of the minerals, the waters, the good lands, oil, of the wealth, and have concentrated the wealth in a few hands: Less than 10 percent of the population of the world owns more than half of the wealth of the world and … more than [half] the population of the planet is poor, and each day there are more poor people in the whole world.

Certain right-wing commentators seized upon the reference to the crucifixion of Christ. It was a classic "gotcha" moment, accompanied by incomplete references to
Chavéz' association with a wonky old crank named Norberto Ceresole, who, as it happens, was the genuine article--a real anti-Semite. (In fact, Chavéz gave the old fool the boot right out of Venezuela in 1999, for, among other things, precisely that.)

Now, in context, it is rather obvious that the Venezuelan populist was referring to rich elites in general. No Jews, so far as I am aware, had a hand in mistreating Bolivar. 10% of the world's population is not Jewish. What is far more interesting, however, is the anti-Semitic assumptions underlying the very accusations of anti-Semitism levelled against
Chavéz. To read anti-Semitism into his Christian-socialist utterance, we would have to have already in our minds an image of Jews collectively responsible for the death of Christ, rather than a rich elite in complicity with the Roman occupation. You won't find any of that in his words, but you'll find it in the mouths of his accusers.

More recently,
Chavéz has come under fire again, this time--no surprise here--for being critical of Israel's current actions in the Middle East. He makes a crucial distinction, however, that all of us would be wise to make ourselves:

The flame of war is once again ignited over there in the Middle East, and whose fault is it? We cannot say it is the people of Israel, we cannot say that is the people of Palestine, no. It is the North American empire’s fundamental fault, it is the empire that has armed and supported the abuses of the Israeli elites, which invade, abuse, challenge the United Nations since a long time ago.

The "Israeli people," versus the "Israeli elites." When one writes about Israel, to what is one referring? The people, the state, the territory? It is not always clear, and when one tries to be clear, once again one runs the risk of being called--well, anti-Semitic.

But, of course, there is more to all this than unclarity in the use of terms like "Israel" and "Israeli." The elephant in the room, which I shall address directly in my next post, is Jewish.

(To be continued)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The civilian question

Over at another site I was asked point-blank whether I believed that Israeli forces "intentionally" target civilians during the current Mid-East crisis. Such a question deserves a straight answer, even if it is really two questions rolled into one.

If by "intentionally" one means that Israel's objective is simply to kill civilians, then the answer is no, generally speaking. Many times more casualties than those reported would obviously have been inflicted otherwise. (That does not mean, however, that some evidently intentional killing is not going on: see below.) But if by "intentionally" one means that Israel knows that civilians will be killed in large numbers by its actions, and ploughs ahead anyway, then the answer is just as plainly Yes.

The oft-repeated assertion is that Hisbollah deliberately hides among civilians, thus making civilian deaths inevitable. This is a staple, in fact, of pro-Israeli arguments that seek to rationalize those deaths. Allegedly, rockets are placed within civilian populations in the south, and arms have been stored in Beirut suburbs, for example. But this strongly-made claim has been equally strongly contested.

In Beirut, there has been talk of Israeli use of banned anti-civilian weapons, although this has not been confirmed by anything like an impartial source. Banned or not, though, Israeli weapons have so far killed more than 300 Lebanese, mostly civilians. Israeli civilian deaths currently number fifteen.

More troubling, perhaps, is what has been happening in Southern Lebanon. Villages continue to be demolished, with terrible loss of civilian life. Worse--far worse--are reports like this one:

Israeli air strikes and a naval bombardment on the Christian town of Srifa near Tyre overnight killed more than 30 people.

With many of the dead believed to be civilians, those still in the south are being presented with a dangerous choice.

Israel's army has ordered residents of dozens of villages near the border to leave their homes. But the United Nations peacekeeping force in South Lebanon says virtually every civilian or humanitarian convoy that's chanced the roads has come under Israeli fire.

Marwaheen, it seems, was not an isolated occurrence. Civilians are being ordered by the IDF to leave their villages and then fired upon. Lots of "intention" there, I'm afraid.

Hisbollah, for its part, has recently been firing anti-personnel rockets into northern Israel, something that Human Rights Watch has correctly called "serious violations of international humanitarian law and probable war crimes." Clearly this is something for which they should be brought to account. Now, if only our hopelessly biased media commentators would apply the same standards to Israel's current conduct.

Middle East: gags and apologies in Ontario

Whenever I find myself wondering why I spend valuable time in the blogosphere, a news story appears that reminds me, once again, why this form of information and opinion-sharing needs to be nurtured and treasured.

An Ontario MPP, Phil McNeely, has discovered what happens in Canada these days when one has the temerity--or foolhardiness-- to criticize Israel's current adventures in Lebanon.

Mr. McNeely stands accused of stating the obvious in "an email obtained by the (Ottawa) Citizen":

1) Israel is engaging in collective punishment of the people of Lebanon.

2) After decades of war and devastation, Lebanon has been set back years by Israel's destruction of its infrastructure.

3) Israel's detention of a number of democratically-elected members of the Palestinian government is the act of a rogue state.

4) The federal government should apologize to Canadians for supporting this behaviour.

He had a few choice words to say about the war in Iraq as well, and concluded: "Arabs and particularly Muslims do not count as people for some governments."

In a subsequent interview with the Citizen yesterday, he enlarged a little on his views:

"I feel very strongly that the U.S. is going in the wrong direction and we have Harper, who is leading Bush instead of following Bush, who is a puppet of Bush and I felt as a Canadian, Ontarian that I have to speak out," he said.

He went on: "You know, the death of Arabs doesn't matter, they are expendable and I just feel very badly the way the world is going. I don't think it is the way to build relationship [sic], I think we should be reaching out to the Arabs and Muslims. We are not."

He said Arabs and Muslims in the community are continually barraged as terrorists, but "people like ourselves feel very strongly, but you know, it's very dangerous speaking freely in this country."

No kidding. The Canadian Jewish Congress was quick off the mark, demanding that McNeely "reconsider and retract" his statements. And then Dalton McGuinty got into the act, expressing "serious dismay and disappointment," distancing his government from McNeely's views, and phoning the Canadian Jewish Congress personally to assure them that everything was under control. Shortly afterwards, McNeely issued an abject apology that sounded as if it had been extracted under torture:

Recently I have made comments with respect to the current situation in the Middle East, which were inappropriate. I apologize for the language of my comments and sincerely regret the hurt they have caused. I recognize that the challenges faced in the Middle East are complex and longstanding. During this time of tension, it is even more important for everyone to remain respectful of each other, which I failed to do.

Meanwhile, the killing on both fronts continues. Lebanon "has been torn to shreds," her desperate Prime Minister cries out. But woe betide any public figure in Canada who dares cry out as well.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

War on Lebanese civilians continues

Canada has asked Lebanon and Israel to guarantee that they won't attack ships full of Canadian evacuees heading for Cyprus.

Do the Lebanese armed forces have the time, inclination and materiel at the moment to bomb a flotilla of Lebanese-Canadian evacuees fleeing the country? Not all that likely: no harm in asking, though. But Israel? Whoa, hold on a minute...I thought that Israel never intentionally targets civilians. But now they have to be formally asked not to?

Back in the real world, civilians are continuing to die in large numbers--in fact, all but a handful of the Lebanese dead so far are civilians. And hundreds of thousands more have been driven from their homes, as Ehud Olmert continues his relentless "no exemptions" policy.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is a little iffy on the subject of safe passage, as it happens. This interview, in fact, is well worth reading in full, and will be of special interest to those captivated by the surrealism that has descended upon that part of the planet. Here, for example, is Barak's stance on the role of the Lebanese government:

TONY JONES: But even the United States appears to acknowledge the Lebanese military and the Lebanese Government are too weak on their own to take on the hard core Hezbollah militia in the south. Do you really believe that Lebanon and Lebanon's army could have disarmed Hezbollah?

EHUD BARAK: Yeah. Until two years ago, the Government was a puppet government of the Syrians and they did not want to do that. But now there is a weak government, but a democratic one, that wants to see the Hezbollah dismantled and it's up to the world to back them in a convincing way and tell them, "We are behind you. Don't be frightened. We will come to your help if necessary to help you exercise your sovereignty over the whole sovereignty of Lebanon." I believe that if they will feel the support of the world leadership in their backs, they are capable of doing it. They are clearly willing to do it.

TONY JONES: But, Ehud Barak, how could they do that when Israel has effectively declared war on them, has bombed its civilian infrastructure, its international airport in Beirut has been bombed, sea ports, bridges, communication infrastructure, electrical plants, houses, vehicles on the roads, have been bombed by the Israelis. It's hard to see that the Lebanese Government would be able to do anything at all at the present moment. You've declared war on them.

EHUD BARAK: We did not - I repeat - we did not declare war on the Lebanese Government. We declared war on Hezbollah. I believe that no government on earth would accept the situation that someone tries to - Hezbollah tries to dictate to us, as well as the Hamas from the other side of the Gaza Strip. Namely, the first attribute of any legitimate sovereign is the monopoly on the use of weapons. No one would accept or enable where a political party, which has its Members in the Parliament, even the Government, has its own militia with weapons and they shoot rockets at will of the militia, not of the Government, into a neighbouring sovereign. That's no way to accept it. The primal contract of our Government with our nation, as well as your Government with your public, is to protect them. If this would have happened in Sydney or Melbourne, I have no doubt what Prime Minister Howard or his predecessors would have done. I'm talking from experience. I know him very well.

Barak is simply evading, and not very skilfully, I might add, the central question: How is the Lebanese government supposed to proceed?

At some points, the interview is almost Monty Pythonesque:

EHUD BARAK: If the Lebanese Government will order its armed forces to move to the south, backed by the international will, I think that it will dramatically reduce the level of violence and probably stop it.

TONY JONES: But only overnight 12 Lebanese soldiers were killed by an Israel air strike. I mean, I would imagine they would be afraid to send armed troops to the south for fear that they too would be caught up in the fighting.

EHUD BARAK: Oh, no. No reason for them to avoid it. We will not hit them.

On the seven Canadians killed, note the off-the-shelf apology (a version of which has been delivered to Stephen Harper by Ehud Olmert):

But, basically, only areas that are held by Hezbollah are attacked and normally you may say if what you have described just happened, of course, we regret it and I'm sorry for it.

Enough. I think the last word, under the present circumstances, should go to the beleaguered Lebanese Prime Minister, Fuad Saniora:

"Is the value of human life in Lebanon less than that of the citizens of other countries?" Saniora asked.

He also slammed nations that have said Israel is only acting in self-defence -- a thinly veiled swipe at the United States.

"Is this what the international community calls self defense? Is this the price we pay for aspiring to build our democratic institutions?

"Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by the State of Israel is inflicted on us?" he added.

Unfortunately, all of Saniora's rhetorical questions have only one answer at present: Yes.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Israel's crocodile tears

Israel has formally expressed "deep sorrow" over the killing of seven Canadian citizens, including four children. Sorry? I'll just bet they are. An ally as staunch as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, first in line to cut off aid to the newly-elected Palestinian government, a man whose notion of a "measured response" I have already covered, is not one to trifle with. His "ethnic" flank is now badly exposed. So it's time to bring out the tears and handkerchiefs, but not for the Lebanese kids killed by an Israeli rocket attack on an open road after obeying Israeli orders to evacuate their village. And not likely for the Canadians either.

Meanwhile, is Harper becoming more, well, measured?

Israel must show restraint as part of the solution

What, "show restraint?" Is he having a lucid moment?

but it is essential that the attacks against Israel would stop and it is essential that Israeli soldiers be returned to Israel.

Ah. Too good to be true. All that's needed to secure peace is a one-sided truce and a one-sided prisoner release. Why hasn't the UN Secretary-General's mission to the region thought of that?

I have a confession to make: I find myself increasingly unable to navigate the surreal sea of geopolitics in which our Leader is presently dog-paddling. Not because I am unable to follow Realpolitik: I'm a student of Machiavelli and I know how the game is played. But when I look at those photos of dead children on a country road, I find myself blaming--why, the people who did it.

People have tried to talk me out of this moralizing nonsense. One commenter told me to "grow up." Didn't I know that this was simply "prepping the battlefield?"
And now Israel is expressing "deep sorrow," and I still don't get it.

I'm sorry to be a slow learner. The only thing that cheers me up--a little--is that there's a whole lot of people in my class just like me, asking dumb questions about "disproportionate responses" and stuff. And the classroom appears to be more crowded by the day. I'm not lonely or anything. But I just can't stomach the lessons.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Israel's "measured response"

Seven dead Canadians, including four children. And a few more children, killed on the road by an Israeli rocket attack after being ordered by Israeli forces to leave their village of Marwaheen. (Photos courtesy of Angry Arab; confirmed at Israeli News Now.)

Israel's war against civilians

For once, I would like to be spared the usual "fog of war" excuses, the moral equivalence arguments (the lone rocket attack on Haifa, after days of Israel bombing civilian areas in Beirut), the "Hizbollah started it" childishness. Israel's mailed fist spares nobody, not even children--in the words of her acting President, Ehud Olmert, "No one will be exempt." The Fourth Geneva Convention be damned. 106 Lebanese are dead, most of them civilians.

This story says it all:

Fleeing refugees, including women and children, were cut down on a road adjacent to the Lebanese-Israeli border in an air strike as they left the village Marwaheen. The bodies of several children, one headless, were sprawled on the ground. Police said 15 were killed in the afternoon attack and an Associated Press photographer counted 12 bodies in the two cars.

Some further detail here:

Eighteen civilians, including nine children, were burnt alive in an Israeli helicopter gunship attack yesterday on residents fleeing border villages in south Lebanon, UN peacekeepers and hospital sources said. The van was carrying families fleeing the village of Marwaheen after Israeli loudspeaker warnings to leave their homes. Seven of the dead were from a single family.

Israeli forces ordered inhabitants of the border village of Marwaheen to evacuate. UN peacekeepers at a nearby UN base refused to take in the villagers, stating that they could not confirm Israel's orders. Half of those targeted in the attack were children or teenagers. As reported, "Pictures showed charred bodies of children strewn across the road."

Is this what Prime Minister Stephen Harper calls the "right of Israel to defend itself?" Is this a "measured response?" What measure is he using?

The last word to Larry C. Johnson at No Quarter (h/t Robert McClelland):

While most folks in the United States buy into the Hollywood storyline of poor little Israel fighting for it's [sic] survival against big, bad Muslims, the reality unfolding on our TV screens shows something else. Exodus, starring Paul Newman, is ancient history. Hamas and Hezbollah attacked military targets--kidnapping soldiers on military patrols may be an act of war and a provocation, but it is not terrorism. (And yes, Hezbollah and Hamas have carried out terrorist attacks in the past against Israeli civilians. I'm not ignoring those acts, I condemn them, but we need to understand what the dynamics are right now.) Israel is not attacking the individuals who hit their soldiers. Israel is engaged in mass punishment.

How did Israel respond? They bombed civilian targets and civilian infrastructure and have killed many civilians. Let's see if I have this right. The Arab "terrorists" attack military units, destroy at least one tank, and are therefore terrorists. Israel retaliates by launching aerial, naval, and artillery bombardments of civilian areas and they are engaging in self-defense. If we are unable to recognize the hypocrisy of this construct then we ourselves are so enveloped by propaganda and emotion that, like the Israelis, Hezbollah, and Hamas, we can't think rationally. We can only think in terms of tribalism and revenge.

It really can't be put much more lucidly than that.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Killing off the Left

h/t Robert McClelland

When right-wingers get upset with us, it seems we get a choice of rope, gas chamber or firing squad.

Not the sort of people you want around your kids, I'm thinking.

Mexico City in flames: "Alamo" gang defiant

MEXICO CITY, July 12 (Faux News Services) -- Mexico City is under renewed aerial bombardment today, as the "Alamo" gang continues its offensive against the US today, raining sticks of dynamite over the US-Mexico border. The Mexican death toll now stands at 60, including a number of children.

US warplanes dropped leaflets over large areas of Mexico, warning people to stay away from known Alamista strongholds. "I would, if someone would tell me where the hell they were," said one Mexican in La Villa de Guadalupe, a suburb of Mexico City that has been virtually obliterated in the bombing.

Meanwhile, President-elect Felipe Calderon, from a bunker in an undisclosed location, expressed frustration. "I've been stuck in here since the election," he said. "First it's half of Mexico, now it's the US. I thought they were our friends. What am I supposed to do? I can't even control my own kids, let alone the Alamistas."

The whereabouts of two Americans kidnapped by the gang last week are still unknown, although State Department officials believe they are now in Cuba. Meanwhile President Bush has threatened a blockade of Venezuela. "Chavéz is in this up to his eyeballs," said one State Department official.

A wider war, according to top military analysts, is now a looming possibility. But, while some world leaders have called upon the US to show "restraint," Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada remains a strong supporter of the US offensive. "The terrorists kidnapped two Americans," he said. "The US is reeling. Now is not the time for loyal friends and allies to question this measured response."

The "Alamo" gang, in fact a loose confederation of Mexican youth gangs that want the return of Texas to Mexico, has been responsible for tossing sticks of dynamite at border patrols and into US-Mexico border towns. Until the current conflict, only a few light injuries had been reported, in El Paso. Pressure has been exerted on the Mexican government before this, but its often corrupt
federales have been of little or no use. Mexican government requests to the US for assistance to build its military have been rebuffed because of Mexico's support of the Rome Statute: like Israel, the US is of the view that its citizens should be exempt from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Experts now believe that Cuba is behind the renewed tension on the US-Mexican border. Its President, Fidel Castro, has publicly criticized the US and is considered to be the force behind Venezuelan Hugo Chavéz, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Argentinian President Néstor Kirchner, Ecuadorian President Alfredo Palacio and numerous other South American leaders, as well as unions seeking to organize
maquiladora workers in Mexico itself. Rumours of a Cuban nuclear program, as yet unsubstantiated, have poured further oil on the flames.

"Islamofascism must be stopped in its tracks," said a worried President George W. Bush today. "The dominoes are falling, and the time is now."

(--Faux News staff, with files from the Jerusalem Post and the Globe & Mail)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Mexican "Alamo" gang attacks Americans

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, July 12 (Faux News Services) -- A rowdy group of T-shirt clad Mexican gangsters attacked American tourists in a Ciudad Juárez nightclub earlier today. Shouting, "¡Si, nosotros recordamos el Alamo!" the young thugs seriously injured several, killed one, and kidnapped two. The latter's whereabouts are unknown.

"This is a serious provocation," President George Bush stated grimly at a Rose Garden press conference moments ago. "I'm holding the President of Mexico--whoever that turns out to be--personally responsible."
Noting current problems with illegal immigration, Bush added, "We've turned a blind eye long enough. The wall is going up, and terrorism will not stop us."

He then announced that he had ordered the immediate carpet-bombing of Mexico City. "No one is exempt," declared Bush. "We shall keep up the pressure until our kidnapped citizens are safely returned." Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada applauded the move, saying, "The United States has a right to defend itself." Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, asked to comment, replied, "Don't bother me. I'm kind of busy right now."

UPDATE: Based upon information that at least one of the thugs' T-Shirts bore the likeness of Che Guevara, it is now believed that the two kidnap victims have been removed to Cuba. According to one highly-placed State Department source, "An invasion is not out of the question."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Fair and Balanced

Twenty civilian Palestinians dead so far; as many as 52 Lebanese civilians already dead at the hands of the Israeli Defence Forces.

Meanwhile, Israel is reeling...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Craig Murray mirror sites

The truth is out there.

h/t LFCM:

Currently the following mirror sites have Craig Murray's documents, as a UK injunction looms:

Dahr Jamail
The Iraq Memo
The Torture Telegram
Many Angry Gerbils
Politics in the Zeros
Duncan Mcfarlane
James Cranch
Adrbaz (German)
Pickled Politics
An Oxford Mirror
Ministry of Truth (US)
Septic Isle
Voltaire Net

LFCM provides interesting information on .torrent files as well--copyright law, it seems, has been left in the dust.

UPDATE: (July 12) Tony Blair's bully-boys have forced Craig Murray to remove some of the documents from his site. In his words:

New Labour are not as stupid as they seem. I have now had a chance to take legal advice, and that advice is as follows. To defend this case would cost the price of a London house. I don't have a house, in London or anywhere else. I am therefore obliged to give in to force majeure and remove some of the documents from my own site. This reeking government is therefore able to mask its stink on this particular miniscule corner of the internet.

Here is another piece of legal advice I received. Copyright cases cover one instance of publication in one place. Anyone else who has published any government documents that might be Crown Copyright, or not, (and I believe there are hundreds of thousands of documents on the web on which the government could, by the argument in Mr Buttrill's letter, claim copyright), is an individual case and can wait to hear from Mr Buttrill.

Force Majeure wields a two-edged sword.

More mirror-sites have popped up here, here and here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Craig Murray documents extraordinary rendition

Craig Murray, for those who don't know, was the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan who was removed from his post on October 14, 2004, after criticizing that country's human rights record. (One method of execution in Uzbekistan is boiling alive.) By all accounts, he became fairly outspoken about this sort of thing, and, as any Ludlum or Clancy reader would predict, soon found himself embroiled in a web of allegations, including sexual misconduct and drunkenness.

He was cleared of all charges, but began to be noisily critical of the American and British governments' use of Uzbekistan as a place for the extraordinary rendition of suspected terrorists. (Just as well, by the sound of it, that Maher Arar was bundled off to a relative rest-camp like Syria instead.) That got him sacked by the Tony Blair government. But he would not shut up.

Murray now has his own website, and a regular column in the Guardian. He ran against then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw last year, memorably stating in his campaign literature that "a vote for Jack Straw is a vote for lies, torture, and George Bush." His on-going human rights campaign has met with various threats from the British government, who have brandished the Official Secrets Act and tried to suppress his recently-published book, Murder in Samarkand. The book has now appeared, but with omissions demanded by the British government.

That government is at present feverishly trying to suppress a number of incriminating documents that form the material basis of the book, and that bear out Murray's claims of British and US complicity in torture. On July 7, Murray received letters* from Foreign Office lawyers telling him to remove these documents from his site by yesterday or face a High Court injunction. Creatively enough, the Foreign Office is going after Murray on alleged breaches of copyright this time rather than of the Official Secrets Act.

But the irrepressible Murray has the international blogosphere to fall back on.

I am sorry to trouble you, but believe that we now face a threat both to
the Web and to Freedom of Information in the UK which must be
challenged. The British government is arguing that government
documents, even if released under the Freedom of InformAtion [sic] Act
or Data
Protection Act, cannot be published, on the web or elsewhere, as
remain Crown Copyright. They have required me to remove documents
my website on that basis, under threat of legal action - see
attached letter from the Treasury solicitors.

If you think about it for a moment, the government could thus cancel out
almost the whole purpose of the Freedom of Information Act; information
released would be just for the private use of an individual. Newspapers
- or bloggers - could not publish it in any detail.

If accepted, this extraordinary use of copyright could keep literally
everything - everything - produced by government a secret.

The documents in question are the supporting evidence for my book,
Murder in Samarkand, which has just been released. The government
continues to claim my story is untrue. There is one important advance
in all this. Up until now the government refused to acknowledge the
documents were authentic. Now Buttrill's letter specifically
acknowledges all of the documents and claims copyright over them.

Some of these documents have already been published widely on the web
(not least due to the efforts of many of you on this list), particularly
the "Tashkent telegrams" on CIA and MI6 use of intelligence obtained
under torture in the UK. Those are now admitted as authentic.

Some are new to the web. Perhaps the most important is the chart of the
changes the British Government insisted be made to the book. These are
extremey [sic] revealing for what they admit to be true - for example, only
minor changes are requested in the key meeting between senior officials
on the legality of using intelligence from torture, at which it was
confirmed that this is US and UK policy.

Perhaps still more revealing is the insistence on removal of the
assertion that "Colin Powell knowingly lied" when he claimed that bombs
in Tashkent were the work of al-Qaida. The British government insisted
on removal not because it was untrue - as detailed in the book, they
know full well it is true - but because it would "Damage UK-US relations".

The changes requested were made in the book, because my publisher would
not publish without. That is why the truth needs to be out there on the

It is on the face of it very strange that the British Government is
going after me over the Copyright Act and not the Official Secrets Act.
The answer is simple - under the Copyright Act there is no jury. A jury
would never convict for campaigning against torture, and be most
unlikely to accept that documents released cannot be published. The
table of changes requested by the government is not even a classified
document in the first place. But a single judge may be more malleable -
John Reid had put a huge effort lately into browbeating judges over
anything connected to the so-called War on Terror. As the government
know very well I have no money to pay a small, or even large [sic] fine, they
can get the book and documents banned and me in jail without having to
convince any jury of pesky citizens.

How to fight back?

Well, we must not let the documents disappear from the web. There is as
yet no legal ruling on these matters, Mr Buttrill's claims are only
highly controversial legal contentions. So if you post the documents
pending a court ruling, there is a danger you may be contravening the -
civil, not criminal - law, but then again you may not. You would quite
likely receive a threatening letter from Mr Buttrill. Now you have this
email from me, NSA and GCHQ are almost certainly tracking you, (they
can, incidentally, reciprocally spy in the other country for each other
and then swap the info, because neither needs a warrant to spy abroad),
but then they probably were already.

The publisher had firm and very expensive legal advice that it was not
contravening any civil or criminal law to publish in the book links to
web pages containing the documents. So you are almost certainly on safe
legal ground in publishing this link to the Dahr Jamail site if you do
not wish to mirror the docs yourself.

Feel free to publish this email and the letter from Mr Buttrill [attached].

It might also be helpful if we urged people to contact him, by phone,
email or letter, and ask him complex questions about the fascinating and
difficult legal and ethical questions thrown up by the government's
position. As a government servant he's obliged to reply.

Finally, the government made plain to parliament that it would act
against the book itself if it was published. As it only came out on
Friday, no injunction yet but it could happen any time. So if you are
interested in getting it, buy now and beat the injunctions! It is
available from most online booksellers, though bookshops seem very
reluctant to stock it.

Many Thanks,

Craig Murray

And many thanks to you, Craig Murray. It's an honour to help out.

Check out the documents, people, now safely out of reach of Blair's censors. But make sure you have the stomach for it.

h/t Blairwatch
* Text of the two letters:

7 July 2006

Dear Mr Murray


The Treasury Solicitor acts for the Foreign Secretary in this matter. This letter should be treated as a letter before claim in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules 1998.

It has come to our attention that, on 4 July 2006, you placed 15 documents on your website ( which you describe as "
supporting documents" relating to your book 'Murder in Samarkand'. We have reviewed the documents and it is clear that in each case (save for document 12 and the majority of document 13) the copyright in the documents subsists with the Crown. I refer you to section 163(1) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 which states:

"163(1) Where a work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties --
(a) the work qualifies for copyright protection notwithstanding section 153(1) (ordinary requirement as to qualification for copyright protection), and
(b) Her Majesty is the first owner of any copyright in the work".

We take the position that all of the documents (save for 12 and the majority of 13) were produced by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of their duties. As you do not have permission or a licence to reproduce the documents we consider that Crown copyright has been infringed. In particular, you should note that the statement on your website that " Net posting is not breaching copyright because there is no charge to access the documents" is wrong as a matter of law. Whether or not a charge is made is wholly irrelevant to the issue of copyright infringement. Further, even if a document is released under the Data Protection Act or Freedom of Information Act that does not entitle you to make further reproductions of that document by, for example, putting them on your website or making further copies to be provided to third parties. The copyright remains enforceable.

As you are infringing Crown copyright, you are required to remove the documents from your website immediately and to provide an undertaking that you will not further infringe Crown copyright by reproducing these documents, or any other document or documents in which Crown copyright subsists and which relate to Foreign and Commonwealth Office matters, without permission or licence. If you do not do this by 4pm on Monday 10 July 2006 my client will issue a claim in the High Court for an injunction requiring you to remove the documents. The claim will be issued without further notice to you. An application for an interim injunction will also be made.

If my client is forced by your actions to issue proceedings, she will seek to recover from you the legal costs incurred as a result. Such costs are likely to be substantial. You are strongly advised to seek legal advice.

We are copying this letter to your publishers Mainstream Publishing. We consider this to be necessary as you state on your website that 'Murder in Samarkand' will be an
"interactive book" containing URL links to the Crown documents. In the circumstances we consider that your publishers should be aware of my client's proposed course of action in view of your infringement of the Crown's rights.

I look forward to receiving your response.

Yours sincerely

Gareth Buttrill
For the Treasury Solicitor

Cc. Mainstream Publishing

7 July 2006

second letter

Dear Mr. Murray


You have requested more time to seek legal advice. I have my client's instructions.

We are prepared to extend the deadline for you to give an undertaking until 4pm on Thursday 13 July 2006 on condition that the documents referred to in my first letter are immediately removed from your website and not reproduced by you anywhere else whilst negotiations regarding the undertaking are ongoing. If you do not immediately remove the documents from your website the offer of an extension will be withdrawn and the original deadline of 4pm on Monday 10 July will apply.

In the event that you fail to give the required understanding by 4pm on 13 July, or if the documents reappear on the website during the course of negotiations, my client reserves the right to issue a claim against you without further notice.

I should be grateful for your response by return.

Yours sincerely

Gareth Buttrill
For the Treaasury Solicitor

Craig Murray's response to the second letter:

From: craig
To: Gareth Buttrill
Sent: Monday, July 10, 2006 8:43 AM
Subject: Re: Infringement of Crown Copyright: letter before claim

Mr Buttrill,

Thank you for this second letter. It is rather a peculiar request. You
claim to be willing to extend the deadline for me to be able to take
legal advice, providing that I concede the principal point in the meantime.

I cannot see the need for this haste. In copyright cases it is not my
understanding that it is generally considered necessary to remove a
publication from circulation pending a court decision. For example,
there was a recent highly publicised copyright case over the Da Vinci
code. Was it deemed necessary by the court to withdraw the Da Vinci
Code from sale while the case was heard? No, it was not.

Your peremptory demands reveal the motive behind your actions in this
case - the suppression of information for political purposes. I don't
believe it is right to use Crown Copyright in this way. Otherwise the
government has an arbitrary power to keep secret absolutely anything
that it does. Your contention in your letter of 7 July that the
government can use Crown Copyright arbitrarily and politically to
suppress material released under the Freedom of Information Act, would
obviate the whole purpose of that Act in giving the public a "Right to
know" what is being done in their name.

I have this morning contacted solicitors to take legal advice. I could
not do so over the weekend as this is not a criminal matter, and
copyright lawyers do not run 24 hour call out services. Unfortunately I
must spend much of today at St Thomas' Hospital for treatment of serious
medical conditions. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office's treatment of
me, as detailed in the documents you are trying to suppress, was the
direct cause of those medical conditions, a fact I would welcome the
chance to discuss in court.

You have been free to advise me what I "Must" do. You must bear in mind
what the content of the story is, that I am seeking to tell and the
government is seeking to suppress.

I accept your renewed deadline as reasonable, but will not be removing
the documents in the interim - until I get advice, I shall go by what I
know of the law, and all I know in this matter is the Da Vinci Code

In the meantime, I should be grateful if, entirely without prejudice,
you could furnish me with some practical advice. If the documents are,
as you allege, Crown Copyright, where and how do I go about making a
formal application for permission to reproduce them?

Also, I am copying your letters to my website. Do you allege that to be
also a breach of Crown Copyright? If I remove the documents but not
your letters, would you still go for an injunction? If I am served an
injunction and remove the documents, but put the injunction on my
website to explain why, do you allege I am breaching Crown Copyright by
publishing the injunction?

Do you allege it to be a breach of Crown Copyright to reproduce on a
weblog any document at all produced by government? The definition given
in your letter of 7 July would plainly cover speeches given by Ministers
and written by civil servants. Is it a breach of Crown Copyright to
reproduce such ministerial speeches on a weblog? How long a quote could
you make from a ministerial speech before breaching copyright? Does this
cover, for example, letters from local authorities and health trusts, or
just from central government? Does it cover parking tickets? What
about quotes from the King James Bible?

If all or any of these are, in your view, matters of discretion where
the government can exercise Crown Copyright if it so chooses, then the
following is perhaps the most important question of all. Are there any
criteria of reasonable action which the government is obliged to
consider when deciding whether to enforce claimed copyright or not, or
is the Crown claiming a power which is solely arbitrary?

I apologise for my confusion. You can see why I need to take legal
advice. I will revert to you.

Craig Murray