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In need of a lawyer

Justin Webb | 14:35 UK time, Wednesday, 5 December 2007

A day spent at the Pentagon - I lined up to go through security with folks on a Bible study mission - focuses the mind once again on war.

I had a very interesting conversation with a senior soldier about blogging. He is encouraging his mid-rank officers to do it; be open about who you are, they are told, but do not be afraid to take part in the conversation. I intend to get them on this site before long.

Meanwhile, I agree with Huw Spanner, who points out the potential circularity of international law when it comes to the justification for acting in self defence. It was my friend Owen Bennett Jones, of BBC World Service radio, who inveigled Kofi Annan - then UN Secretary General - to come out and say plainly that the Iraq war was illegal.

But what does it really mean? Is John Warner right? (Senator, is that you?) We need a lawyer. I never thought I would say that while living this side of the pond.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 04:32 PM on 05 Dec 2007,
  • Justin wrote:

I think international law is a difficult one, particularly when it comes to the UN Security Council.

After all, John Bolton was right when he said that all UN member states are out for themselves.

Where the UN Security Council is concerned, the P5 all have different interests and cannot be assumed to act reasonably when dealing with countries that may or may not pose a threat.

The Iraq War was unjustified as it transpired that Iraq did not pose any threat to either America or Britain. In this argument the UN is irrelevant. There were no WMDs.

However, even if Iraq did pose a threat, could we have expected the P5 to have acted reasonably when each P5 member state (UK, USA, France, Russia, China) have different strategic interests? I think not. After all, would China or Russia have cared if Iraq posed a real danger to the west?
Would China or Russia or even France for that matter have authorised war if Iraq had posed a serious threat when they had so much money bound up in the Iraqi economy? Of course they wouldn't.

For this reason, I think the P5 should be replaced with a body that does not act according to each nations own self-interest but the collective interest of the world community as a whole.

  • 2.
  • At 04:45 PM on 05 Dec 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

"We are going to destroy Israel and throw all the Jews into the sea." That was the Arab clarion call to genocide in the first few wars they fought to destroy Israel. One problem with so called international law is that real law always applies, you don't just trot it out when it suits your political agenda and then put it back in a drawer when it doesn't. So four wars of genocide by invasion and two wars of genocide by terrorism are not violations of international law but building settlements on unused land to create militarily defendable borders, building a wall to keep suicide bomber out are violations of international law. Not much of a law as I see it. So called international law was naively invented in the 20th century by people with 19th century minds who conceived it would be enforced as one would enforce a law in an English or American courtroom. Nothing could be further from reality. When there are trials, the defendants often turn them into circuses. The juries have made up their minds before the case even opens. The expectation was that genocide would "never again" be permitted without severe punishment. It didn't work out that way. The perpetrators of genocide in Cambodia are just going on trial now, 30 years after their crimes at a time when many of them are dead. What happened to Idi Amin? How long did it take to bring the perpetrators of genocide in the Balkins to trial and how many of the countless underlings who were "just following orders" got away? What about Ruwanda. And Darfur right this minute?

Kofi Annan can say whatever he likes about the invasion of Iraq being illegal but even under the perverted notion of so called international law that exists, it was perfectly legal. Saddam Hussein's regime had violated the terms of the truce in 1991 and 17 Security Council resolutions. The USA had every reason to believe it was under imminent threat of attack, even if the facts turned out later to be misleading. There was the shell game Saddam Hussein played with the UN inspectors resisting the requirement for his openness about divulging and destroying WMDs. He proved conclusively he couldn't be trusted when his nuclear weapons program came to light in 1995, 4 years after the conditions of the truce when his Brother-in-law who ran it revealed it in Jordan after he defected. There was Putin's warning to the US, the Dodgy Dossier which Blair believed, why shouldn't the US, and there was the uncorroborated testimony of the mysterious Iraqi chemical engineer "curveball" whom the Germans would not allow the US direct access to. In American law, crime is determined usually by intent and nobody can demonstrate that the US invaded Iraq to steal its oil.

Noam Chomsky referenced in the blog below is a notorious anti-American American professor of linguistics at MIT. He is therefore a favorite of America haters all over Europe among other places. He uses language deceptively, often redefining the meaning of words to suit his political ends. He does this by taking pejorative terms and using them in false arguments. Early on during his interview with BBC a few years ago, he called America a "rogue nation." Later he defined a rogue nation as any nation which acts exclusively in its own interests. This of course just happens to include every nation on earth but it doesn't sound as convincing to say America acts in its own self interests when you are trying to persuade people to hate it because it is supposedly run by criminals. Fortunately for Chomsky, there is no penalty for torturing the English language.

It is for these reasons that the US should pull out of all of its global treaties, alliances, and organizations, and disavow subservience to any international organization or code of laws. It should reassert its sovereignty over its own behavior and it can start by sealing its borders to the hordes of invaders who cross it brazenly every single day. It should also use its economic power to reward those who work with it in its own interests and punish those who work against it. It can start by imposing the same conditions of boycott and embargo against Iran that it does against Cuba. American connoisseurs will have to get their caviar somewhere else.

  • 3.
  • At 05:47 PM on 05 Dec 2007,
  • BK Coleman wrote:

The important thing to remember is that "international law", such that it is, does not reside ABOVE nations (such as federal does above state), but rather BETWEEN nations, otherwise issues of sovereignty would come into play, and as such, while it may be "poor form" to disgregard it, it is not in any way, shape, or form "illegal", as there is no overriding legal authority which administers/controls it. Just a patchwork quilt of on-the-fly agreements built on idealism and (all too often) simple convenience. International Law is NOT "international law". It's just, when you get down to it, a series of gentlemen's agreements. End of story.

  • 4.
  • At 07:56 PM on 05 Dec 2007,
  • bob from us wrote:

Need or "is now a necessary part of life so someone who doesn't like what I say won't sue me"

  • 5.
  • At 10:10 PM on 05 Dec 2007,
  • Justin wrote:

Ref my last post: I would like to point out that while I agree with John Bolton on this one point, it quite literally is just this one point.

  • 6.
  • At 11:04 PM on 05 Dec 2007,
  • John Warner wrote:

Mark. . . here we are again.

As I recall, the interview at the BBC with Chomsky was regarding the propaganda model - as far as I remember the phrase rogue state was never mentioned - let alone revised in meaning (I haven't had time to read it as I have to head out in a moment, but I have taken the time to find a transcript for you http://www.zmag.org/chomsky/interviews/9602-big-idea.html, so please let me know if I'm wrong).

Firstly - and I will add now to avoid confusion that I am not excusing the actions of anyone intent on genocide - but Israel is a nation of stolen land, taken from arab countries, particularly the palastinians after the second world war, having been there no more than ten or fifteen years (this time it's I who lacks research, but I'm in a rush), they had invaded Syria and stolen the largest fresh water reserve in the area. It has constantly threatened Lebanon and has undertaken a steady process of intimidation and attacks on palestine. These attacks have of course been reciprocated, but Israel cannot be found blameless.

However, as I've said before an attack upon a sovereign nation is illegal. Whether it comes from one side or the other in the name of defence, democracy or freedom or whatever. It is illegal. America has the potential to act as a guiding light in world affairs, it has resources (50 years worth at least *laughs*) and power and funds to do the world a lot of good, but it doesn't. Where are the interventions in really dangerous situations? Burma? Darfour? North Korea? Look at those nations on the US hitlist and tell me what you see. Venezuala: a socialist democracy, oil wealthy, Iran, oil wealthy, Afghanistan, natural gas and oil, Syria, oil, Iraq oil, Cuba? That's different, a load of farmers made you look foolish so you decided to dangerously reduce import and export levels to attempt to weaken them into a satalite state. It failed.

Again, I'm not attempting to dissuade you from your argument, but I would ask you to consider researching it a little more thoroughly. Though one other thing I would cation you with is that refering to people as Un-American has been done before, let us not see a return of HUAAC eh?

Oh, and apologies to Justin, I'd forgotten there was a senator with my name, sorry to disappoint you, but London to Virginia would be one hell of a comute in the morning.


  • 7.
  • At 03:06 PM on 06 Dec 2007,
  • John Braddock wrote:

Dear Mark
America is in hock to the rest of the world so where is the economic power in that - what you mean is American military power backs up its economy . If you really want to draw back to an isolationist - yet threatening position - based on the might of American economy then close all foreign bases - withdraw all troops from abroad and eschew using force to impose your economic values on the rest of the world . Then we will surely see if the US is up to it.

  • 8.
  • At 05:54 PM on 06 Dec 2007,
  • Bob Palais wrote:

I was just musing about how the justification for the Iraq war would be received if I used it in a regular court of law, in a homicide case. Not your typical self-defense, but rather, `Your honor, I thought he was acquiring weapons, so I pre-emptively killed him.' Do you think I would get off?

  • 9.
  • At 12:17 AM on 07 Dec 2007,
  • Come off it wrote:

John Warner needs to realise that Egypt and Jordan controlled Gaza/West Bank between 1948 and 1967 and made no attempt whatsoever to create, for the first time in history, a country called "Palestine", because it has never existed, except as a tool to use against Israel and manipulate world opinion (which, with the help of media such as the BBC, has been a complete success).

And as for the sovereign nation nonsense, does that mean that we were wrong to go after Hitler?

  • 10.
  • At 04:19 PM on 07 Dec 2007,
  • Raphael Pendergast wrote:

Oh fantastic- the staple American WWII response...always a banker. I think you will find that Germany invaded Entente land a long time (somewhere around 4 years) before British, American, or any other troops set foot on German soil. The comparison would be extremely worthy had Iraq invaded Israel or any other surrounding nation but otherwise, it falls completely flat.

  • 11.
  • At 03:00 PM on 08 Dec 2007,
  • Albanaich wrote:

The usual American propaganda fantasies - why oh why can't reporters like Justin Webb explain to Americans that just about everything they believe about the USA is a propaganda distortion of some kind or other.

Let's get the fact straight here (and it something reporters from the free world should be continually telling Americans) no one has ever attacked Isreal.

Isreal has repeatedly invaded every nation around it, ethnically cleansed and colonised them and rejected every censure from the more or less unamimous world community.

The USA has strongly supported Isreal in defiance of the entire world community and international law.

By all legal definitions the USA terror state, which supports terror and encourages terror wherever it finds it.

The definative decision of the World Court in 1988 on the USA v Nicaragua just about sums it up - and has good old Oliver North in the same category as Osama Bin Laden.

When the USA admires 'tv' personalties whose record on terrorism makes Osama Bin Laden look like a 'good guy' the USA has some serious problems to address

  • 12.
  • At 08:19 PM on 08 Dec 2007,
  • Penny wrote:

When Kofi recognizes the Oil for Food scandal and the underhanded goings-on in the UN, I may listen to his rhetoric about other things. Until then, I find his words without truth.

* 2.
* At 04:45 PM on 05 Dec 2007,
* Mark wrote:


"It should reassert its sovereignty over its own behavior and it can start by sealing its borders to the hordes of invaders who cross it brazenly every single day."

Poor Mark -does he ever understand what he says? Is he really asking for the remains of the indigenous peoples of America who escaped the genocide commited by the invaders to rise up and repel the immigrants of which he is presumably one?

Empty vessels apparently do make the most sound -so is it really the loudest and emptiest sound that "free speech" is actually intended to promote?

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