afghanistan

Abby Martin on the Jimmy Dore Show Talks about US Crimes of Empire: Part 3

This is the third part and final part of my article on the interview with Abby Martin on the Jimmy Dore Show. She’s a tireless critic of American imperialism, and the presenter of the Empire Files on TeleSur English, and before that, on RT.

Dore and Martin discuss how the Empire and the Deep State loathes Trump because he ain’t good for the Empire’s image. After Bush had nearly pushed Americans towards revolution, Obama managed to placate people, and win them back to the Empire. But Trump is worse for the Empire because he’s such an a**hole and psychopath. There are people, who are just as psychotic. Paul Ryan, another Republican, hates the poor. But Trump is ramping up the Empire to colossal levels. There are now troop surges in Afghanistan, and the formation of Africom to deal with Somalia. Everybody’s heard of a horrific massacre committed by one of the warlords, and blamed on al-Shabaab. But what you aren’t being told is that week before his village was subject to a bombing raid which killed a load of kids. Martin talks about Trump’s hypocrisy and cynicism. He attacked Killary for the way she sold arms to the Saudis, but has been more than willing to sell them arms himself so they can kill civilians in Yemen. Under Trump, there has been a 400 per cent increase in drone strikes, and a 75 per cent increase in civilian deaths. Under Bush and Obama, the US military just killed every military-age male in a given locality. Now they’re carpet-bombing whole villages. Just like the Israelis kill Palestinians. Well, Trump said he would kill not only the terrorists, but also their families, in direct violation of the Geneva Convention. Unfortunately, he has not honoured the promises Martin hoped he would, like normalising relations with Russia.

And then they get on to MOAB – the Mother Of All Bombs. This ‘mini-nuke’ – actually a conventional bomb that approached some of the destructive power of a nuclear device – was dropped on a cave system in Afghanistan. They said it only killed terrorists, but there were people in that area, and we won’t know if it only killed terrorists, because nobody’s allowed in there. Martin describes ISIS as a barbaric death cult – which is true – but states that this doesn’t give us the right to kill the people, who live in these countries. She makes the point that the applause which greeted the MOAB attack was a dehumanisation of the Afghan people and the victims of this weapon.

They then discuss whether some of the people on the Right, who supported Trump, may now be disillusioned with the orange buffoon. Many people probably voted for him because they thought he was anti-interventionist. But he hasn’t been. This might be because the military-industrial complex and the warfare state are beyond his control. Martin hoped that this part of the Republican based would speak out, but she was disappointed. The base is just interested in having a more efficient War On Terror. They aren’t speaking out about Venezuela, nor about the push for war with North Korea, they just don’t want us to fund al-Qaeda. As for Trump himself, he was never anti-interventionist. He just appeared so as it was a useful stance against Killary. He doesn’t have to surround himself with generals, who just want war because with every new invasion they launch, they get another star on their jacket. They two then discuss how nobody knows why America was in Niger.

I realise that this is an American programme, discussing American issues. But it also directly and acutely affects us. A number of our politicos have attended Republican conventions, and one of Trump’s British buddies was Nigel Farage. The Tories have been copying and utilising Republican policies since Maggie Thatcher took over as premier in the 1970s. And New Labour did the same with the Clintonite wing of the Democrats, adopting their stance against the welfare state, and introducing neoliberalism, deregulation and privatisation, including the privatisation of the NHS, into the Labour Party.

The situation is rather different over here in Blighty, as we are now lucky enough to have a real Socialist as leader in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn. But New Labour is desperately trying to hang on in the shape of Progress, Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement. And they have been using the smearing of decent anti-racists, the majority of whom are Jewish, as anti-Semites and their expulsion from the party as a weapon to purge their left-wing opponents.

As for imperialism, we are still riding on the back of America’s coat-tails, trying to be a world power by exploiting the ‘Special Relationship’. And so we support their wars in the Middle East, and the looting of these countries’ state industries and the brutalisation and impoverishment of their peoples.

Our media isn’t quite as bad as the Americans’ just yet. The news over here does accept that climate change is real at least, and there are still news reports about the poverty caused by austerity and Tory cuts to the welfare state and health service.

But it is heavily biased towards the Tories. The Beeb is full of public school, very middle class White guys, and its news and editorial staff have contained a number of high profile Tories, several of whom have left their posts to work for the party under Cameron and May. ‘Goebbels’ Robinson and ‘Arnalda Mussolini’ Kuenssberg are members of the Tory party. Robinson led a whole series of Tory groups, while Kuenssberg spoke at a fringe meeting in the Tory party this year.

The Kushners noted in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, that the Beeb does not allow anyone to question austerity, and it is just assumed, entirely falsely, as true and necessary by the rest of the media. And academics from Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities have noted that the Beeb is far more likely to talk to Tory politicians and managing directors about the economy, than Labour politicos and trade unionists.

And the war on alternative media is happening in this country as well. The Tories would love to close down RT. We’ve already seen them join in the baying mob accusing it of being Putin’s propaganda arm interfering with British democracy over here. All the while being very silent about how the Israelis were caught trying to get the people they don’t like removed from May’s cabinet. We’ve seen them criticise Labour MPs for appearing on the network, while ignoring their own people, who also have. And May got on her high horse to write a letter to Alex Salmond telling him not to take up a job as presenter with the Network.

And the bots and algorithms cooked up by Google and Facebook to protect us all from ‘fake news’ are having an effect on ‘controversial’ read: left-wing bloggers and vloggers. They direct potential readers away from the sites the corporations have decided are a threat to democracy. Mike’s suffered an inexplicable fall in the readership of some of his articles, and some of his posts have had to be reposted after mysteriously vanishing from Facebook. Even before then, there was an attempt to censor Tom Pride over at Pride’s Purge by claiming that his site was unsuitable for children. The pretext for that was some of the coarse humour he employs in his satire. This is nothing compared to some of the language you will hear on YouTube. It looked very much like his real crime was sending up Dave Cameron and the other walking obscenities taking up space on the Tory benches.

What Abby Martin says about the media and the crimes of Empire describe the situation in America. But it also describes what the neoliberal elites are doing over here.

We have to stop this. We have to take back parliament, and end the warmongering. Now.

Afghanistan War Crimes Probe A Sham and Cover-up For US

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/11/2017 - 1:00am in

by Finian Cunningham, via Information Clearing House When The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it was planning to investigate alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, the timing seemed appropriate. The announcement by the ICC on November 3 came within days of a deadly airstrike by US forces in northern Afghanistan, which UN officials say killed ten civilians. But the history of the intergovernmental court since it was set up some 15 years ago gives pause to hope that it might deliver justice in Afghanistan. For many critics, the ICC is a byword for self-serving Western political control, either whitewashing crimes or smearing designated opponents. A pertinent question is: why has it taken the ICC so long to investigate alleged crimes in Afghanistan’s war? The Pentagon claimed the air raid near the city of Kunduz on November 4 killed only Taliban militants. However, last week the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) provided a very different version of events. UNAMA said extensive interviews with local residents and medics show that at least ten civilians died …

Fox News Drools over Mandatory Patriotism Class in College of the Ozarks

The use of patriotism as a disguise for right-wing indoctrination gets another boost in this small section of the American education system. In this clip from Secular Talk, host Kyle Kulinski talks about a piece on Fox News, where they discuss the introduction of a new, mandatory freshman class on patriotism and the military at the College of the Ozarks with the college’s president, Gerry Davis. Actually, discuss is probably not the right word. ‘Rave about’ and ‘fawn over’ are probably better descriptors.

Davis states that the course will including rifle shooting, map reading and tying knots, as well as respect for the flag, as these parts of the curriculum are modelled on basic training in the American military. He states that everyone in America owes a debt to their armed forces. As for sport, he states that the college football and other sports teams would not play another side, whose team members refused to stand for the flag. And he states that it’s disrespectful for a squaddie, who’s served in Afghanistan, to have to see some multi-millionaire kneeling. This is clearly a reference to Colin Kaepernick and the other American football players, who have knelt when the flag is raised before games to show their support for Black Lives Matter and protest the shooting of unarmed Blacks.

Kulinski is understandable bitterly critical about the double standards towards free speech shown by the college and its administrators, and by the Republicans towards peaceful protest. He states that if others were assembling a course on patriotism, a few of the things they might put in it could be the Civil Rights movement, perhaps the New Deal, and the Constitution. But none of those are included, because it doesn’t reflect the personal tastes of Davis himself. And any course on patriotism should include how great it is to live in a country, that will allow you to burn the flag in a peaceful protest. He points out that peaceful protest is one of the most American of institutions. But this move means that it is ruled out, and there is literally no way people can express their feelings about injustice as these are also angrily denounced or suppressed by the patriotic right. If they march in the street, they’re accused of making a mountain out of a molehill. They can’t riot without being denounced, obviously, and so, with simply kneeling for the flag also attacked, there is simply nothing they can do to raise awareness of the issue of the cops killing innocent Blacks. And this is the attitude of the American patriotic right.

Who claim they are the defenders of free speech, except when it challenges the flag and the military. ‘You f***ing hypocrites’, Kulinski describes them.

As for ending the cavalier judicial murder of Black Americans, Kulinski suggests this could be done by passing laws setting up community policing, making all police wear body cameras and ending the war on drugs.

He ends by saying that if these people were truly concerned with patriotism, they’d be willing to let people kneel for the flag, even if they didn’t agree with them. But instead the president of the US himself, has said that people should fired for doing so.

Kulinski’s right about all of this, and the issue of respecting the flag has been raised before. Back in the 1980s when Reagan was in the White House, there was a storm of outrage when a young member of the Communist party publicly burned the flag in protest at Reagan’s policies. The great American comedian, Bill Hicks, lampooned the Republican protests and loud denunciations which followed.

He said he didn’t want anyone to burn the flag. But the flag wasn’t freedom. You can’t burn freedom because freedom is freedom. And that includes the freedom to burn the flag. Or words to that effect. It’s a long time since I listened to the joke.

As for Americans owing something to the military, that’s true up to a point. This arguably begins and ends round about the Second World War and the attack on Pearl Harbour. The other wars America has fought across the globe have not been about protecting America or democracy, but preserving capitalism against the threat of Communism. This has meant the overthrow of even moderately liberal or reformist governments in order to protect and extend American corporate interests. 9/11 was an act of war against America, but the western armed forces that are now stationed in the country have long outstayed any residual welcome they may have had, and are now in fact actively counterproductive in that they are creating opposition to the West. And the subsequent invasions and military actions that have taken place under the guise of the War on Terror, such as the Iraq invasion, the bombing of Syria and the overthrow of Gaddafi, are simply more geopolitical imperialist adventures, in which the lives of brave squaddies are being spilt simply to boost the profits of big corporations.

Perhaps if America and the West genuinely wanted to respect our troops, we would just make sure they’d only be sent in when our security was directly threatened. And not as cannon-fodder for Raytheon and the other defence contractors to make another killing on the stock exchange.

Hillary Clinton to Appear on Graham Norton Show Tonight – But Will He Ask Her About Corrupt Uranium Deal?

I’ve been posting various articles this week attacking Hillary Clinton and the lies she’s been spinning as she promotes her book, What Happened. This is her account of how she failed to be elected the first female president of the US in 2016, losing to the fake-tanned, bewigged maniac now determined to plunge us all into a new Cold War. Killary was in Australia one week, where one Ozzie journo caught her telling five whoppers when she was interviewed on ABC. She has since come to England, where she’s been speaking at the South Bank Centre and at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature.

She’s going to appear on the Graham Norton Show tonight, Friday 20th October 2017, at 10.35 pm. The blurb for the programme on page 114 of the Radio Times states

Hillary Clinton talks to Graham about the US presidential campaign, as detailed in her book What Happened. Jeff Goldblum, Gerard Butler and Jack Whitelaw join her on the sofa.

Another piece on the previous page, 113, adds rather more information.

This time last year Hillary Clinton had her heart set on the Oval Office and probably expected to spend her evenings on a White House sofa. How on earth has she ended up on Graham Norton’s couch instead? She’ll tell him “What Happened” while discussing her new book about her annus horribilis.

Here’s hoping Clinton doesn’t try to describe 2016 after a glass or two of Norton’s house reserve, though. He’s never one to resist a red, white and blue gag.

As with so much, you are not going to hear the unvarnished truth from Clinton because, to paraphrase the old Hollywood line, ‘she can’t handle the truth.’ The simple truth is that many ordinary, working Americans were sick and tired of the poverty and massive income inequality the Reaganite neoliberalism championed by her and Bill had created. They were sick and tired about public programmes being cut, while money was poured into the banks and big businesses that were already bloated from public money anyway, and which had profited massively from the economic mess they’d created. They were sick and tired of American imperialism, of seeing their finest young men and women sent off to kill and be killed in countries which, with the exception of Afghanistan, had not attacked America on the orders of a lying president, just as Brits are sick and tired of the same neoliberal policies and the same militarism heavily promoted by the Clinton’s fan and George Dubya’s poodle over here, Tony Blair. These wars are being fought not to defend America or promote democracy, but simply to despoil and loot these other nations for the benefit of western, chiefly American, multinationals.

She lost because Americans were sick of rising medical bills, which a growing number simply can’t afford, even after Obamacare. And far from being the traditional image of the welfare recipient as an unemployed scrounger, the majority of these poor around the developed world are working people, who are now paid so poorly thanks to Thatcherite doctrines of pay restraint, that they have to work two or three jobs simply to keep their heads above water, go on welfare, or, in Britain, subsist using food banks.

And the American public, Blacks and Whites, also remembered how she exaggerated the threat of crime by young Black men, in order to push through highly punitive legislation that now sees something half of the Black American male population go to the slammer. For the profit of the privatised prison system, of course.

American women saw through her faux-feminism, in which she tried to present herself as campaigning for all women, when in fact she was a bog-standard corporate insider, despite her repeated claims that she had to be an outsider, ’cause she was female. Killary represented nobody but herself and the other, rich, entitled women like her. She was perceived as massively corrupt, massively insincere, and profoundly unsympathetic to the plight of ordinary working people.

But Killary can’t handle any of this, and so has been running round blaming everyone but herself. She’s blamed Bernie Sanders, the genuinely left-wing Democrat she and the head of the Democratic National Convention, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, stitched up and from whom she stole the nomination. She’s also blamed the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, who was a stronger feminist figure. Both she and Bernie promised Americans Medicare for all. She’s blamed it on a culture of misogyny. While this does exist, her claim that she was being bullied because of her gender by Sanders’ supporters is another lie.

And she’s also ramped up international tension by blaming the Russians. Because WikiLeaks published internal Democrat party documents showing just how corrupt she was. She’s claimed that Russian hackers were responsible for this, when in fact the former British diplomat, who took custody of them for WikiLeaks, said that they came from a Democrat Party insider.

And Killary has absolutely no business screaming at others and accusing them of corrupt dealings with Putin’s Russia, when this is exactly what she and her husband and the chief himself, Barack Obama, did. A little while ago, the New York Times broke the story that before she signed off on a deal, which saw uranium mines in Kazakhstan and a fifth of the uranium processing industry in America itself taken over by a consortium of Russian companies, the Clinton Foundation received $145 million from individuals connected with these companies. And her husband, Bill, was given $500,000 for a speech he gave to a Russian bank.

One of her aides, Brodnitz, pointed out in an internal document for her campaign that this affair would damage her electoral chances, and put people off voting for her. Now the American paper, the Hill, has also published a piece reporting that the FBI was investigating her and Bill for two years for this, but the Department of Justice only decided to release the details to the public after the deal had gone through. Thus, Obama had actively connived at preventing her and Bill’s possible prosecution for it, until after the deal had been made. And very profitable it was too for her and Bill, though possibly not for the American taxpayer.

In the video below, the American comedian Jimmy Dore and his co-hosts, Ron Placone and Steffi Zamorano, the Miserable Liberal, discuss this latest revelation of Killary’s corruption and double-dealing.

This is just more evidence that Bernie should have got the nomination. If he had, he would have been the far stronger opponent to Trump. And we just could now have a genuinely progressive, Democratic government. This would, in turn, have been a filip to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party over here, as well as genuine left-wingers and Socialists elsewhere in the world.

But this would have been too much for the corporate hawks running Congress to stomach, so they gave it instead to Killary. Who then lost to an even worse candidate, Trump, but one who was better at articulating popular American hopes and fears than she was.

I like Graham Norton. He’s a genial host, although I’ve long stopped watching his show. I dare say he’ll get Killary to talk at length about her book, and she’ll spin and lie about the reasons she lost, just like she’s been lying to interviewers and the paying public all over America, Australia, Britain and the rest of the civilised world. I dare say that Norton will ask her some awkward-ish questions, but they won’t be so awkward that they’ll embarrass her or stop her making similar appearances in the future.

But I doubt very much he’ll ask her about her very real corruption scandals, like the above relationship with the Russians or the handsome payments she got from Wall Street in return for protecting them from further regulation.

Raouf Halaby on Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ as Great Banned, Anti-War Book

There’s a great piece over at Counterpunch today by their contributor, the academic Raouf Halaby, on a celebration of banned books. One of the librarians at a local university celebrated Banned Books Week by holding a Banned Books Read-Out in the college amphitheatre. Students and teaching and non-teaching staff were invited to choose a banned book, and read from it for ten minutes. The librarian also provided 100 banned books from the university library to help people decided and participate.

Halaby himself chose Kurt Vonnegut’s SF novel, Slaughterhouse Five because of its powerful anti-war message, a message that is unfortunately still very pertinent five decades after he wrote it. The novel was written against the Vietnam War, and is about a man, who comes unstuck in time, going backwards and forwards into the past and future, but returns to 1945 and the infamous bombing of Dresden, before ending up in an alien zoo. Vonnegut himself had been an American squaddie during World War II, and he and his fellows were in Dresden when it was bombed. They had been captured as P.O.W.s, and were imprisoned in a converted abattoir called ‘Schlachthof Funf’ – ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ – during the bombing. Vonnegut was a great master of irony and black humour, and I’m very sure he saw the dark humour in having been saved from a bombing raid that killed an entire town while shut up in a slaughterhouse.

Halaby states that his mother was a quaker, and that’s possibly where he gets his anti-war ideas from. But he was a soldier, and dedicated his reading of Vonnegut’s great work to some of his army buddies, who were killed in Vietnam. As for the book’s continuing relevance today, he writes

For my ten minutes, I selected Kurt Vonnegut’s acclaimed Slaughterhouse Five for the following reasons: 1. Since the end of WWII the U.S. has waged war on the Korean Peninsula, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and at least half a dozen more countries around the globe. 2 Ken Burn’s Vietnam documentary has, at long last, forced us to engage in some serious soul searching, and a much needed conversation about the many lies, mistakes, and atrocities of this war, thus providing an opportunity to reach out to the hundreds of thousands who served in Vietnam as well as those who opposed the war and helped bring it to an end. 3. The U.S. is still using its superior military power, a disproportionate, scorch earth power that incinerates thousands of precious lives in faraway lands, and a power that pulverizes entire nation states. 4. Recent threats of unleashing the “fire and fury” of nuclear weaponry poses a grave danger to humanity. 5. Innocent civilians seem to always be in the sights of machine guns, missiles, and now, drones and MOABs . 6. Those who order soldiers to wade into the hades of military adventures do so under the guise of national security; waging a war is, after all, a pernicious flag-waving pathway to furthering political careers; gullible voters continue to buy into war snake oil. 7. And finally, I have seen firsthand the ravages of war and the devastating effects wars have had on individuals, communities, nations, and regions. I have inherited my mother’s Quaker values.

Much of his article is a long passage from the book, presumably the one he read out, describing the author’s experience in Dresden and their imprisonment in the slaughterhouse, and how it shows the brutality and inhumanity of war. All war. And makes the case that ordinary bombing with conventional weapons can kill as many people as nuclear bombs. A bombing raid on Tokyo with ordinary bombs one night killed 84,000 + people, while 79,000 + people were incinerated at Nagasaki. Not that this makes nuclear weapons any better, and they’ve gone on to vastly outstrip the destructive power of conventional weaponry. He also makes the point that war is evil, but the people, who commit the acts of mass death may be perfectly normal, otherwise decent people.

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/29/dont-let-them-ban-our-books/

I don’t know if Vonnegut’s book was ever banned, though I don’t doubt that it’s anti-war stance and biting satire was extremely unpopular amongst the right and the military. It was so popular, that it was made into a movie in 1972, though critics like John Clute have said it does not equal the book. Vonnegut passed away a few years ago. However, he was still a trenchant critic of American politics and society right to the end. I remember reading a newspaper article in which he made his opinions of George W. Bush, then the US president, very clear.

Book Review: Rebel Law, Insurgents, Courts and Justice in Modern Conflict by Frank Ledwidge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/09/2017 - 11:02pm in

In Rebel Law: Insurgents, Courts and Justice in Modern Conflict, Frank Ledwidge explores the role of courts and law in insurgencies and civil wars. This is an intriguing, engaging and comprehensive account that is particularly compelling when discussing insurgent justice in the Muslim world, finds James Baldwin, valuably diverging from the tendency to read such phenomena solely through the prism of extremism. 

Rebel Law: Insurgents, Courts and Justice in Modern Conflict. Frank Ledwidge. Hurst. 2017.

Find this book: amazon-logo

Rebel Law: Insurgents, Courts and Justice in Modern Conflict is a fascinating exploration of the role of courts and law in insurgencies and civil wars. The author, Frank Ledwidge, is a barrister and former intelligence officer in the British military who has had a varied career as an advisor in justice-related development projects, including in the British-occupied Helmand province of Afghanistan. The first half of the book examines how a variety of insurgent movements have used courts and law, while the second focuses on the role of law in counterinsurgency strategies, including a critique of British operations in Helmand.

From the perspective of my discipline of Islamic legal studies, the first half of the book is of particular interest. Ledwidge recasts the sharīʿa-based justice systems created in recent conflict zones in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria and Iraq – usually portrayed as reversions to barbaric punishments driven ideologically by militants – as a phenomenon comparable to other insurgencies in non-Muslim countries. Observers of Afghanistan have noted previously that the Taliban built a reputation for providing justice in the context of the rampant warlordism of the 1990s: that their appeal was founded on fairness as much as the specifically Islamic character of their legal regime. But Ledwidge explores this idea at length, and illustrates it by juxtaposing Afghanistan and other Islamic examples against an event central to modern British history: the Irish War of Independence, when Sinn Fein and the IRA set up a network of courts in Ireland as part of their boycott of the British state. Their strategy was, of course, violent: litigants and witnesses were intimidated into not cooperating with the British justice system. But, at the same time, Sinn Fein’s courts were widely seen as fair and efficient. Brute force was not sufficient to mount a successful insurgency in Ireland: the republicans also had to offer the Irish people an alternative model of governance that they would accept.

Having presented the Irish case as the paradigm of an insurgent judicial strategy, Ledwidge then explores a series of insurgencies in the Muslim world in which law and courts have played a significant role. Beginning with the Taliban in Afghanistan, he moves on to the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia, competing courts run by mainstream opposition forces and by the jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra group in rebel-held Aleppo and, finally, the judicial activities of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Image Credit: Nawa District Justice Centre, Helmand, Afghanistan, 2011 (ResoluteSupportMedia CC BY 2.0)

These various court systems represent a range of models of justice. The Taliban, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS all claimed to ‘restore sharīʿa’ – by which they meant implementing a hardline interpretation of sharīʿa complete with harsh corporal punishment and attention to moral infractions. Somalia’s Islamic Courts were not driven by such an ideological Islamist agenda: they still relied partly on sharīʿa, Somalia’s major legal tradition, but were more eclectic in their interpretation of it and also used customary law. Meanwhile, the courts affiliated with Aleppo’s mainstream rebels ran the kind of civil law system that is typical of most Arab countries today, using a code of largely European extraction along with elements taken from the sharīʿa tradition.

But even in the most ideological of these insurgencies, the sharīʿa element was incidental to the courts’ appeal and success. What mattered was their efficiency and fairness, in the sense of procedural regularity and refusal to accept bribes. What made these courts effective tools of insurgency was that they brought order and stability where previously there had been chaos, and that their procedural standards compared favourably with the alternatives. The courts were a key component of the insurgents’ pitch to local populations. Not only did they focus on preventing the kind of crimes that plague communities after the breakdown of the state – kidnapping, robbery, extortion and so on – they also sought to prevent corruption among their own judges.

The second half of the book provides a critique of the ‘rule of law’ model of nation-building that the US and its allies have pursued in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion. Ledwidge begins this section by discussing how older empires attempted to stabilise remote and volatile regions, exploring the strategies pursued by the Ottoman and British empires in Albania, Yemen, India’s North West Frontier Province and southern Sudan in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Ledwidge claims that both Ottoman and British imperial elites recognised that engagement with local institutions and practices was crucial to success. He believes that US and British forces today have forgotten this lesson, insisting instead on the centralised state as the solution in unstable countries, even though such states often have little legitimacy and few ways to build it.

Ledwidge’s treatment of the British empire sometimes seems uncomfortably nostalgic: on page 125 he quotes, apparently approvingly, Charles Napier bemoaning that ‘so perverse is mankind that every nation prefers to be misgoverned by its own people than to be well ruled by another’. Ledwidge argues, based on military manuals, that British counterinsurgency doctrine in the mid-twentieth century emphasised the use of the minimum necessary force in order not to alienate the population. But he doesn’t do much to explore whether the British response to insurgencies lived up to the theory: the example of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya suggests not.

Ledwidge’s criticism of the British intervention in Helmand is much sharper. He reflects candidly on his own experience: at the time of his posting in 2007, Ledwidge writes that he ‘had never been to Afghanistan, spoke none of the languages and had but the haziest idea of how justice was provided in the country’ (140). His background was typical of those involved in ‘rule of law’ development projects, and Ledwidge argues that the resulting lack of local knowledge is one of the key reasons why most have failed. In the place of deep engagement with local networks and cultural traditions, British and US forces adopted a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach, transposing institutions and practices based on western models. Ledwidge argues that such projects are doomed to failure because they rely on an authority and credibility that the Afghan state lacks.

Ledwidge describes the judicial terrain in Helmand during 2006-14 as a situation of legal pluralism, with five options for resolving disputes: the formal judicial system; government officials acting informally; tribal elders; religious mullahs; and the Taliban. Litigants responded by forum-shopping, although their choices were often constrained by fear of violence. Within this range of options, the formal judicial system was not only ineffective and corrupt, but litigants often came under considerable pressure not to use it. In such circumstances, investment in the formal judicial system typically resulted in white elephants, such as the expensive but empty Justice Center built by the US in Khost, which Ledwidge claims failed to attract any litigants.

Ledwidge readily concedes that the alternatives to state-centric solutions – engaging with local and traditional practices of justice – also raise problems, in particular the lack of respect for gender equality and human rights norms among many local figures of authority. He doesn’t offer a solution to this dilemma. In places, he seems to be leading towards the suggestion that concerns about gender and human rights must be jettisoned if such projects are to succeed; but he backs away from this stark conclusion, citing an example when the mission successfully secured the installation of women members on a local judicial council. His ultimate conclusion is more modest: that just as development officials should be candid about the human rights failings of traditional practices, so they should be honest about the Afghan state’s lack of capacity and legitimacy.

Rebel Law is an intriguing and engaging book that covers a lot of ground. Ledwidge’s criticisms of the nation-building project in Afghanistan are broadly familiar, but they are presented with fresh details and anecdotes from his personal experience there. Meanwhile, Ledwidge’s approach to insurgent justice in the Muslim world is compelling: he brings a much-needed comparative perspective that serves as an antidote to the tendency to read such phenomena only through the lens of extremist ideology.

James E. Baldwin is a lecturer in the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. He teaches and writes about the Ottoman Empire, the modern Middle East and the history of Islamic law. His first book, Islamic Law and Empire in Ottoman Cairo, was published in 2017 by Edinburgh University Press.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 


How to Order my Afghanistan Book

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/09/2017 - 4:55am in

Legendary newsman Dan Rather recommended my book a little while back. As a result of his kind words, however, Amazon is running short of copies. But don’t worry! You can order autographed copies directly from me here.

Radical Journalist Chris Hedges and Cartoonist Dwanyne Booth on the True Horror of War

I see that the government have started running recruiting ads for the armed forces again. It was the navy a few months ago. Now it seems to be the army. The ads show a greasy, disheveled man, who clearly represents some kind of Latin American Fascist or other butcher, being hunted down and snatched by our brave boys, who then whisk him over the sea in the motorized dinghy to a waiting British warship and justice.

Oh, if that were the reality!

It ain’t, of course. Like the Americans, we seem to have spent the last seventy odd years since the end of the Second World War propping up every Fascist mass murderer we could, so long as he would protect British interests from Communism or local nationalist movements. In 1958 we and the Americans organized a coup against the Iranian prime minister, Mossadeq, because he dared to nationalize the Iranian oil industry, which included the equipment and complexes owned by Anglo-Persian Oil, which later became British Petroleum, now BP. Then there was Nasser and Suez, and Mrs. Thatcher’s fave South American buddy, General Pinochet. Quite apart from one of the Libertarian organisations that form part of the Tory party inviting the head of one of the South American death squads over as guest of honour at their annual dinner one year.

As for snatch squads, this ad looks inoffensive over here, but if it was shown on American TV it would actually be very sinister. One of the tactics the American military used to terrorise the Vietnamese during the war there was to use snatch squads to catch Vietnamese peasant farmers during nighttime raids. The farmers would then be killed and their bodies left as a mute message to their compatriots.

Britain’s invasion of Iraq with George Bush, in contravention of the UN legislation against pre-emptive war, and the continuing occupation of Afghanistan, have done precious little except create even more carnage and bloodshed in the Middle East. And these wars were not fought to defend America and the West against evil dictators. In the case of Iraq they were fought so that the oil industry and other western countries could loot whatever they thought was profitable in the country’s economic infrastructure. They also managed to wreck the economy by lowering trade tariffs in order to create the magical free trade utopia fantasised about by the Libertarians and Neo-Cons. Added to this was the ethnic and sectarian bloodshed unleashed by the occupation, and the use of mercenaries and Shi’a militias as death squads by the American overlords.

This makes this next video all the more urgently important. It’s not short – over fifty minutes long. It seems to be a film of the American radical journalist Chris Hedges speaking at an American university gathering about his experiences as a war reporter, and the anti-war cartoonist Dwanyne Booth, alias ‘Mr. Fish’, talking about his work. And it’s strong stuff, which doesn’t pull its punches.

Hedges has a degree in Divinity from Harvard. His father was a Presbyterian priest with radical political beliefs, who was strongly involved in the Civil and gay rights movements. Hedges trained in a seminary, but didn’t joint the clergy. After graduating, he joined the New York Times and served as a war journalist in South America in the 1980s, when Reagan was funding Fascists dictators and their death squads, like Contras in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. After that, he then covered the war in Iraq.

And he presents the unvarnished truth about war and the dehumanizing effect it has on those who are involved, whether as combatants or observers. It’s bloody and horrible, and he states that being in a firefight is terrifying beyond imagination. In fact, terror really doesn’t describe the sheer fear felt during these encounters. These are wars fought for the benefit of big business, and the images and stories about it that we are brought up on are lies.

He describes some of the battles in which he was personally involved, and the times he was captured by hostile forces, like Contras in Nicaragua and the Iraqi Republican Army in Iraq, when he really thought they were going to kill him and his companions. He states that before going into battle, everyone, with himself excepted, used to get drunk or high. Particularly the photographers, as they had to do what you really shouldn’t do in a gun battle and stand up. He states he knew many of them, who lost their lives doing their job. He also states that it is not like the movies. He praises Oliver Stone and his movie about Vietnam, Platoon, but says that the battle in that film is not like real firefights. It’s choreographed. Real battles are just chaos, in which you don’t know what’s going or who’s firing. In all the very many battles in which he was personally involved, he only once saw someone firing in his direction.

He describes how the Contras in Nicaragua called the Sandinistas and forces allied or sympathetic to them ‘periacuas’, a Latin American term meaning ‘motherf***er’. The Contras especially despised the press and media as being allied to the Sandinistas, which made his job even more dangerous. They also used to launch night raids, in which they’d murder a couple of peasant farmers. These people, would have had nothing to do with the war or the Sandinistas, but they were killed and a message left for the ‘periacuas’ on their bodies telling them that this was what was going to be done to them next.

They captured Hedges and his team, when he went looking for a group of them, who had gone underground. He found them, and they really weren’t happy. After capturing him, they radioed their headquarters to ask them whether they should kill them. Fortunately, the answer was, ‘No.’ But they were told to release them and say that if they caught them again, they would kill them and burn their jeep. As if they cared what would happen to the vehicle when they themselves were facing death!

He describes how he and another group of journalists were caught in Iraq by the Republican Army, thrown in the back of a jeep, and had guns pointed at their heads. They were then driven out of the city, and were afraid that their captors would stop somewhere in the desert and shoot them. Fortunately, this didn’t happen, and they were captured by proper, regular soldiers rather than the various militias that had sprung up, including companies formed of 14 year old Shi’a boys, who’d been given guns by Iran.

He also talks about the numbing effect war has on its participants, and the way it becomes a drug. Nothing can beat the high experienced by actually surviving a battle. And so he, like the soldiers he covered, became addicted to combat, playing a weird game with God to see if he could survive ever increasingly dangerous situations and battles.

He also talks about the immense alienation former soldiers feel, an alienation that prevents them from fitting back into society when they’ve returned from combat. He describes them as speaking a language no-one can understand, and makes the point that no-one wants to hear what they’re saying. He makes the point that when you find yourself in a war, you realise that everyone, from your government, the media and your educators, has lied to you. He discusses how old soldiers hate being told how well they’ve served their country, and how no-one wants to hear from them what war is really like. Of the troopers who took Iwo Jima, for example, several took their own lives, while a couple of others drank themselves to death. Hedges himself states proudly that he concentrated on talking to ordinary soldiers. He didn’t talk to anyone above the level of lance corporal, because he wanted to get the truth from them, rather than get caught up in the propaganda spouted by the generals and commanding officers. And he was unique in this. Most journalists wanted to see the top people, and so when he went for the job with the Times, he was told that the queue for the job began and ended with him.

As for the brutal reality of war, it is not like it is portrayed on television on the nightly news. He describes how, when he was in Iraq, in one area they visited the Iraqi army had been without water for three days. Dying of thirst, they tried to cross a minefield in the hope that Hedges and the squaddies he was with would give them some. One of the Iraqi troopers had both legs blown off by a mine. It took him six hours to bleed to death.

Hedges says that it’s quite possible now to show incidents like that using a satellite feed, so you can see in real time real soldiers suffering and dying. But no-one wants to see it, or broadcast it, because if they did, there’d never be another war.

Booth in his work is also angry and bitter about war, and the corporations and individuals standing behind it. One of his cartoons shows a little boy pointing into the camera in the classic Uncle Sam/ Lord Kitchener pose in the war recruiting posters. The legend below reads

I want YOU to give me a future not f*cked up by all your crazy bullsh*t about how moral and just the United States of America is when it invades and occupies other countries and how heroic and brave I’d be to kill for you because you’re too f*cking lazy and bigoted and unimaginative to prefer peace to hegemony and terrorism.

Another of his cartoons shows a child’s body in its grave, with corporate logos covering the shroud.

After speaking, there’s also a question and answer session with members of the audience, who include staff at the university. Some of these link the military action of the American empire to the destruction of the environment and other issues.

This is hard-hitting stuff, and it needs to be heard. We still have our politicians telling us lies about Iraq, and the other interventions in the Middle East, like Libya and Syria. And we haven’t been told the whole truth about Afghanistan – that the Taliban were utterly defeated, but the allied occupation was so terrible, and created so much chaos, that they were able to return and actually be welcomed by the people, they’d formerly oppressed.

Despite the fact that he’s a war criminal, Tony Blair’s still at large and desperate to get back into politics.

We need journos like Hedges. But the corporate media aren’t going to allow them to speak. In fact, the New York Times did its best to suppress the truth about what was going on in Iraq. And tens of journalists have died out there in highly suspicious circumstances, which suggests that the American army might have been killing those members of the media, who didn’t follow the approved line and described what they saw, rather than what the military wanted them to.

Don’t believe the corporate claptrap and the rubbish put out in the recruiting films. Support the independent media that dares to say what they won’t. And for heaven’s sake let’s get our young men and women out of the Middle East. Let’s stop wasting the precious lives of courageous people, who are being butchered simply so Haliburton and Aramco can make even bigger, more obscene profits.

Cartoon of the day

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/08/2017 - 10:00pm in

650

Special mention

08-25-mcfadden-KOS

Tagged: Afghanistan, budget, cartoon, Confederacy, jobs, Mexico, racism, Trump, wall, war

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