Monthly Archives: August 2013

Obama, Syria And The New Neocons: The Hypocrisies Of The Humanitarian Interventionists

I found this wonderful article by Andrew Levine about Syria and Obama on the blog run by the equally wonderful Norman Finkelstein and couldn’t resist making it available to readers of The Broken Elbow.

Levine’s argument is that the Democrats have devised their own version of neoconservatism which it seems we may get to see in action soon over the skies of Syria. Unlike those nasty Republicans the Dems justify their invasions and regime changes on humanitarian grounds, a pretext which makes the overthrow of people like Gaddafi so much more acceptable. But it is still neoconservatism, just as Obama’s health care reforms are essentially still the same old insurance company rip-offs. It just looks nicer.

Gaddafi’s sin was not that he was an enemy of the West – he had put all that behind him and now entertained the likes of Tony Blair in his bedouin tent – but that he was marshalling Black Africa into an independent bloc, playing hardball with the oil companies and refusing to share all that fresh water trapped under his desert sands with Western corporations (reserves equivalent, it is said, to a thousand years of the River Nile flowing). So when he was ousted courtesy of a proxy land war and massive NATO air power it was justified on the basis of his threats against the people of Benghazi.

As Levine points out it was Bill Clinton, good ole Slick Willy, who first developed the approach in the Balkans and Barack Obama has made it one of his administration’s distinguishing footprints.. His team contains two of the most vocal proponents of this new neoconservatism; one is Susan Rice, his national security adviser and the other is Ireland’s own Samantha Power, his UN ambassador and a figure sure to set the Dublin media slobbering with excitement when we see her urging the bombing of Syria to save Syria.

Anyway here is Andrew Levine’s piece. It makes a lot of sense:

August 27, 2013
The Hypocrisies of the Humanitarian Interventionists
To die by cobra is not to die by bad pork

– Gregory Corso, “Bomb”

Who would have imagined that, five years into Barack Obama’s tenancy of the White House, American whistleblowers would seek refuge in Russia (or China or in formerly subservient but now robustly independent South American countries) or that investigative journalists and documentary film makers would find Germany or Brazil safer havens in which to practice their trade than the United States?

The answer is no one: not even those of us who have always been skeptical not just of Obama’s leadership skills but also of his intentions.

At the same time, some things haven’t changed: the American government, like all governments, still wallows in hypocrisy.

But even with a President more “disappointing” than anyone would have imagined, and a government that demonizes its enemies’ depredations and cloaks its own in the mantle of “humanitarian” righteousness, the “line in the sand” that the Syrian government may or may not have crossed is still over the top.

Remarkably, though, hardly anyone in the political or media mainstream sees it that way.

President Obama declared long ago and more than once that should Syria’s President Hafez Al-Assad use chemical weapons against rebels trying to overthrow his government, he would risk bringing the United States – and whatever “coalition of the willing” partners he could cobble together – into the war on the rebel side.

It was plain even at the time that Obama had boxed himself in. If that line is crossed and he does nothing about it, he will look indecisive and weak. With elections (always) looming, a President, especially a Democratic one, cannot afford that. Neither can any leader of an imperialist super-power that bullies the world.

As of now, it is not certain what actually happened August 21 in Jobar, a rebel-held district on the outskirts of Damascus. All that is known for sure is that a lot of people, perhaps as many as thirteen hundred (though probably fewer), died.

Informed observers agree that chemical weapons were used, but there is no agreement on the identity of the perpetrators; each side blames the other. The predominant view – promoted by Western governments and by Assad’s enemies in the Arabian Peninsula and also by many Western and Middle Eastern journalists, is that it was Assad’s “regime.”

[In media parlance, the government Assad leads is a “regime,” while Obama heads an “administration.” “Regime” sounds nasty, and “regime change” is sometimes an estimable goal. “Administrations,” on the other hand, are benign and, as the word suggests, almost apolitical. School boards, universities and public utilities (the ones that haven’t yet been privatized) have administrations; dictatorships have regimes.]

Maybe Assad really is culpable; he has never been a leader who bothered much about ethical side constraints, and he does seem intent on holding onto power by any means necessary.

But the cui bono? (who benefits?) principle suggests the opposite. The Syrian government plainly has enough popular support to withstand the forces arrayed against it. Indeed, it seems to be winning the war.

Amidst all the murder and mayhem, it has become increasingly evident that the rebel forces cannot win — unless something happens to alter the balance of forces.

And what could happen besides Western, especially American, intervention?

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have been arming the rebels for some time; lately the West has joined in as well. The United States has already announced its intention to increase its already considerable share.

At the same time, our leaders understand that siding with the rebels is a risky business if only because the forces in rebellion include some of the Islamists the U.S. is fighting against elsewhere. The Obama administration has always been clueless on the Middle East, but there are limits even to its folly.

And so the prospects for a successful proxy war against the Syrian government are bleak; rebel forces can tie the Assad “regime” down, but not destroy it.

To effect regime change – in other words, to overthrow Assad’s government — the U.S. and its allies may have to go to war on their own.

But for that idea to sell, a suitable pretext must be found. Only then might the United Nations be persuaded to approve military action. So far, principled Russian and Chinese opposition have blocked that prospect.

In our topsy-turvy world those countries are not only better than the United States on the right of international humanitarian asylum, but also on other venerable precepts of international law – like those that uphold the right of sovereign states to be free from external, unprovoked aggression.

The United States has lately settled on a different principle sometimes called the “responsibility (and right) to protect.” That ostensibly well-intentioned notion is a concoction of “humanitarian interventionists.” Obama has brought some notorious proponents of that idea into his administration – Susan Rice and Samantha Powers, among others.

Humanitarian interventionism is neo-conservatism for liberals. It operates to “justify” the United States and other Western countries taking on the role of planetary gendarmes ever at the ready to visit death and destruction upon “regimes” that challenge American domination or otherwise thwart the empire’s will.

Because Russia – and therefore the United Nations Security Council – was not willing to go along, the Clinton administration had to resort to this kind of thinking to excuse the 1999 NATO bombing campaign against Serbian areas throughout the former Yugoslavia.

The pretext then was a “humanitarian crisis” in Kosovo. George Bush would go on to deploy even phonier pretexts to justify his wars. But it was the Clinton administration that showed how it could be done.

When hard core neocons came into power under Bush and Dick Cheney, the humanitarian intervention excuse became otiose — real neocons don’t need no stinkin’ responsibilities or rights to overthrow governments they don’t like. Under Obama’s aegis, with the neocons gone, the idea has sprung back to life.

Since he took office, the responsibility (and right) to protect has been invoked, at least implicitly, in each of the large-scale military misadventures Obama has undertaken — the “surge” in Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011. The former was his fabrication; in the latter, he only “led from behind.”

If the Obama administration has learned anything from those mistakes, there is no sign of it. And so, in our name, Syria is on line to become the next killing field.

Since drones are not enough, that will mean bombers – shades of Kosovo – and perhaps cruise missiles; anything to keep American casualties down.

That is crucial because, like Clinton before him, Obama fears hostile public opinion. In Clinton’s time, there were still vestiges of the Vietnam Syndrome to overcome. Now, as the endless wars spawned in the aftermath of 9/11 drag on, the public has grown war-weary.

Syrian casualties, however, are another story; racking them up is the whole point. To stop Assad from killing Syrians with poison gas, Obama will kill them with cruise missiles and bombs.

It is hard to see how anyone can endorse a program so ludicrous, and so morally flawed, without the words sticking in their craw – and yet they do.

And even in a world that where rank hypocrites run the show, as they always have, the hypocrisy in this instance is so breathtaking it can hardly be believed.

After all, Obama is the Commander-in-Chief of a military that, within recent years, has used napalm, white phosphorous and depleted uranium shells, along with a host of other conventional and non-conventional horrors. These weapons are not illegal under international law if used against combatants (a fine point the U.S. often ignores), but they are no less terrible than sarin gas.

Chemical weapons fall into a separate category, but not because they are more horrendous than other weapons now widely in use. They are different for historical reasons that are sometimes set aside, but that sometimes weigh heavily in official circles when it suits nefarious government purposes.

Saddam Hussein used multiple chemical agents, reportedly supplied by the United States, against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, and then in 1988, he used chemical weapons against the Kurdish town of Halabja, killing more than 3000 (perhaps as many as 5000) people, and injuring many others.

None of this bothered the United States until Bush the father found it expedient to demonize his erstwhile collaborator, the Iraqi dictator, during the buildup to the Bush family’s First Gulf War. Even then, it was only the massacre of the Kurds that provoked outrage; gassing Iranians was fine.

Chemical weapons cause injury and death; they ought never to be used. But they have been used without complaint on the part of “the world community,” and they are inherently no worse than many weapons that the American military regularly deploys.

They are certainly not worse than the nuclear weapons that figure prominently still in American strategic planning documents, and that might well be used should the United States or Israel invade Iran and then find their operations going poorly.

Why, then, is the use of chemical weapons in Syria, in the course of an on-going civil war, a reasonable basis for drawing a line in the sand, one that could trigger further disasters around the entire region and throughout the world?

The cynical answer is that neocons and humanitarian interventionists need pretexts, and this is the best they are likely to get. But then there is also the issue of historical memory.

In the aftermath of the First World War, where chemical weapons were indeed more horrifying than any other weapons in use, there were attempts to outlaw war and also, as it were, to civilize it. Needless to say, little came of these well-intentioned efforts.

But a taboo on the use of chemical weapons in combat did take hold. It held up even during the Second World War, and then in the countless counter-insurgency wars the West fought in its aftermath.

That this taboo endured is all the more remarkable inasmuch as it was not legally binding until 1997, when the Chemical Weapons Convention finally went into effect. Syria, by the way, has never been a signatory to that pact.

Why the special revulsion to chemical weapons? Is it worse to be attacked with sarin gas than with bombs or cruise missiles or, for that matter, with Obama’s drones?

Nothing beats drones for terrorizing populations because one never knows when they are coming, and there is no way to protect against them.

For the rest, including poison gas, at least there are shelters and gas masks. But what difference would that make to the dead and dying?

* * *

Why then draw a line in the sand where Obama did?

Could it be because chemical weapons are illegal (though not in Syria)? That would be a more credible explanation if our Commander-in-Chief and his minions in the military-security state complex weren’t quite as heedless of the spirit – and sometimes the letter – of the law as they have repeatedly shown themselves to be.

A more likely explanation is that, at various points in recent months, Obama found it convenient to throw the neocons and humanitarian interventionists a bone, and didn’t quite think through the consequences.

But then why is there so much acquiescence worldwide to the idea that if the Syrian government did indeed cross the line, then something must be done? It is as if the world is in the grip of a dangerous collective imbecility?

The irony is that Obama plainly knows better; the last thing he wants – or needs — is another war of choice in the Middle East.

But he may not be able to resist the pressure.

It is coming full blast from the (increasingly vociferous) War Party in Congress, from Israel, from Britain and France (always eager, lately, for lovely little wars), and of course from the hordes of chicken-hawk pundits who populate the mainstream media.

This may be a case where the problem is not Obama’s instincts or judgment so much as his weakness, his inability to lead. That he drew a line in the sand doesn’t help either.

In all likelihood, there is still time for him to put reason in control, and Just Say No. Don’t count on it, however.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Seven Countries in Five Years – Obama Embraces Cheney’s Neoconservatism


As Obama rushes towards conflict in Syria, I thought it would be worth recalling what one key witness to escalation to the Iraq debacle remembered about those days for point of similarity. General Wesley Clark gave the interview below in September 2011 and in it he recalled a conversation he had with a ranking General at the Pentagon just ten days or so after the 9/11 attacks.

At that point the US had already secretly decided to go to war with Saddam Hussein even though there was no evidence to link him to the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre. A few weeks later Clark again met the same general and this time he was shown a Department of Defence memo outlining how the US could take down seven countries in five years.

Well, more than five years have elapsed since that memo was drafted but some of those countries on the DoD list have indeed fallen into the Western orbit or nearly have. Clark listed them: Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Iran and Syria. The list was the work of the neoconservative cabal that had infiltrated the highest reaches of US policy formation and whose leader was Bush’s Vice-President Dick Cheney. We thought they had been kicked out in disgrace in 2008 but it looks as if they are back in town.

Toppling Syria is arguably the keystone of this neocon strategy. If Assad falls then so will Lebanon (i.e. Hezbollah) and Iran will be greatly weakened. So will the pro-Shiite government in Baghdad. The stage will be set for the destruction of Islamic rule in Iran and the return of a regime hospitable to the West while Iraq will be isolated. The Middle East and it vast resources of carbon-based fuels will once again will safely under Western control.

It is a neocon wet dream come true and if anyone had predicted in 2008 that Obama would be the president to facilitate all this they would have been laughed out of the room. I have a feeling it won’t work out, just as it failed miserably in Iraq. But before then an awful lot of innocent people are likely to be killed, some in horrible ways. Thank you Mr Obama. Anyway here’s Genera; Clark:

Obama, The President Of ‘Change You Can Believe In’, Embraces War In Syria


“To us, it looks as though Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld never left the White House. It’s basically the same policy, as if US leaders had learned nothing and forgotten nothing in the past decade. They want to topple foreign leaders they regard as adversaries, without even making the most basic calculations of the consequences. An intervention in Syria will only enlarge the area of instability in the Middle East and expand the scope of terrorist activity. I am at a complete loss to understand what the US thinks it is doing” – Alexei Pushkov, chair of Russia’s State Duma’s international affairs committee, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor.

Those of my readers with a gentle or sensitive disposition should not, repeat not, watch the YouTube video below. This is a serious warning. Ever since I first saw it on that great little blog The Moon of Alabama two weeks ago,  I have been wrestling with myself over whether or not to post the video myself. There were good reasons on both sides of the argument.

On the negative side there is no doubt that it will be deeply upsetting and horrifying to nearly everyone who watches it and as the person responsible for placing it on this site, I could be accused of a piece of exploitative sensationalism. Nor did I wish anyone to misinterpret my use of this film as an expression of support for the noxious Assad government in Damascus. It most definitely is not that.

On the other side of the argument the video brutally captures the essence of the people whose side Obama, Cameron, the French and goodness knows who else seem about to take in the bloody civil war in Syria. It savagely illustrates an aspect of the opposition to the Assad regime that has been grossly under-reported in the Western media, for reasons all to do with the post 9/11 transformation of the press in America and Britain into cheerleaders for government. Both seemed compelling reasons to blog the video. But still I hesitated.

It wasn’t until I read today that Tony Blair had emerged from whichever hole in the ground he currently inhabits to voice his support, courtesy of the columns of The Times newspaper, for armed Western intervention in Syria, using many of the spurious human rights arguments that he employed to justify the invasion of Iraq – especially when the WMD rationale was exposed as an outrageous lie. It was then that I made up my mind to post the video.

When a leader such as Tony Blair has been exposed as a brazen fabricator who tricked his country into war and caused the countless deaths of innumerable innocent civilians, nothing he ever says afterwards can or should be believed. In The Times, Blair argued that Western intervention was necessary to save Syria’s civilian population from Assad’s brutality and the “affiliates of Al Qaeda” who hope to exploit the instability.

There are two lies implanted in Blair’s words. One is that the real reason for the West waging war against Syria is not humanitarian but self interest. Destroying the Assad regime and replacing it with a post-Gaddafi Libyan style leadership, which presumably is the West’s ideal, would isolate Iran and strengthen Israel, the West’s proxy in the Middle East, and empower the Saudi/Gulf plutocrats whose oil sustains Western economic growth. Pacifying the region, embedding its leadership and placing it under stable pro-Western influence is what this is all about. It’s called neo-conservatism folks, the idea that brought you Bush, Cheney and now Obama. Samantha Power’s finest hour beckons.

The second lie concerns Al Qaeda. What Blair does not mention is that but for the invasion of Iraq, Al Qaeda would never have had a foothold in the region and would not now be vying for power in Syria. The group was ruthlessly put down by Saddam who regarded Osama bin Laden and his gospel as deeply menacing, as the West knew well.

With their invasion and overthrow of Saddam, Blair and Bush facilitated the growth of Al Qaeda in Iraq just as Obama and Cameron nourished it in Libya and just as they have sustained and fed the jihadists of Syria who feature so brutally in this video. The West’s role in creating Al Qaeda may be debatable but there is no doubt that no-one has done more to sustain and license the group and its violence.

The only outcome of an Obama/Cameron intervention in Syria will be another massive boost for the jihadist cause. After all they are the only people really fighting the Assad government; the pro-West Free Syrians are mostly languishing in comfort on the Turkish border. To the victor will go the spoils.

The quality and nature of these jihadists are bloodily evident in this video which, by the way, has almost entirely been ignored by the mainstream media. The two children executed by the Syrian freedom fighters, whose deaths are shown, were accused of being loyal to Assad and so were sentenced to death by an anonymous judge in a kangaroo court and gunned down by hooded, chanting stooges. Had the two boys been slaughtered by pro-Assad gunmen would their deaths have been so quickly ignored by our media?

When the Cruise missiles begin to streak through the night skies and our television screens are lit up by brightly colored explosions, remember that it is these people, monsters who took young innocent lives in the name of an extremist, medieval sect of an otherwise tolerant religion, who will gain most by all that follows.

Next on that list are all those in the West – in America in particular – who have been suckled by the eternal terrorist threat, surely the most lucrative boondoggle in history: the spooks who spy on us all, the corporations who make the drones and the missiles and bombs, the arms makers, the generals, the media moguls and the politicians who feed off our fear.

All these people, each thriving off the violence of the other, will be hoping that Barack Obama, the man who came to power by opposing one immoral war will press the button to start another one. It looks like they may get their way.

Should Rusbridger Have Resisted The Destruction Of The Guardian’s Hard Drives?

Guardian editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger

Guardian editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger

The question that forms the title of this posting is only slowly entering the NSA debate, post the arrest of David Miranda, but it is surely an important one, raising issues of tactics and principles that should or ought not to be employed by the media as journalism and journalists face the most sustained onslaught in living memory from the surveillance empire.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger revealed in today’s edition that in the face of British government threats of a court-ordered “prior restraint” on his newspaper’s coverage of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, he agreed that his paper’s hard drives could be destroyed. Had the effort to establish “prior restraint” been successful, The Guardian would have been barred from covering the Snowden story.

The deed was done in the newspaper’s basement by Guardian staffers overseen by technicians from Britain’s NSA equivalent, GCHQ on July 30th but we only learned about it today, exactly a month later. The delay has not yet been explained.

Rusbridger did this, his paper reported, so that The Guardian could continue its reportage – which it did less than a fortnight later with the revelation of NSA funding of GCHQ activities – and because other copies of the Snowden material existed on computers outside the jurisdiction, presumably in Brazil on Glenn Greenwald’s hard drives and in Berlin on Laura Poitras’ computers. These other databases enabled the paper to continue reporting albeit from further afield.

Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda

Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda

By and large Rusbridger has been feted for his stance which enabled his paper to maintain its controversial coverage and solidified The Guardian’s reputation as one of the world’s most courageous and gifted newspapers. It is important to remember that its Snowden coverage is only one of a series of recent triumphs for The Guardian: without the paper’s intrepid journalism, Rupert Murdoch’s empire would still reign unchallenged and undamaged on both sides of the Atlantic and the Wikileaks dump might still be searching for a mainstream media outlet, or at least one with more moxie than Bill Keller.

There is no doubt at all that The Guardian and its doughty editor deserve all the plaudits being showered on them but I have to admit to a more than nagging doubt whether Rusbridger did the right thing here.

I say so because even acts of courage can have unfortunate consequences if they are badly thought out, and I fear that may be the case here. Here’s my worry: by acceding to the British government’s threats The Guardian editor may have set an unhappy precedent. There was a principle involved here and it was that The Guardian has the right to create any journalism it wanted from its base in Britain.

By agreeing to destroy its hard drives on foot of a government fiat, Rusbridger was effectively giving the authorities in Britain the right to say that stories of which it disapproved could not be generated from the Guardian’s London office or if they were they would incur official displeasure and the unimpeded invasion of its workplace. After all, having already conceded the government’s right to enter the Guardian’s basement to destroy his hard drives, Rusbridger cannot go into court and challenge it should Cameron’s government wish to do the same again.

The Miranda/Greenwald/Snowden story is not especially problematic in this regard. The story is after all mostly an American one and the principal actors do not work or live in the UK. So it matters less for this story that Rusbridger gave up ground to the British authorities. The notion of keeping the story going from Brazil and Berlin also makes practical sense. But what if the next whistleblower is a Brit and works in GCHQ or MI5? Not now being able to stop the authorities invading his offices to destroy sensitive source material, is Rusbridger going to have to base the reporters covering the story abroad? How feasible or even possible is that?

Would it not have been better to have forced the British government’s legal hand and obliged them to seek court permission to gag what is after all now one of the world’s best known and respected newspapers? It might not be the ideal solution for a newspaper editor keen on keeping his circulation healthy but it sure as hell would clarify the great danger to liberties represented by the growing surveillance state. And the result would not necessarily be a foregone conclusion, not least because the case would inevitably have ended up at the European Court at Strasbourg where the British would likely face a less pliant judiciary.

Had Rusbridger chosen this option he would have done so from a position of strength. Public opinion in mainland Europe (if not yet in Britain) and in much of America has been outraged at most, disturbed at least by the Snowden revelations and suppression of The Guardian could have been one of those game-changing moments in the fight to preserve healthy journalism. (The story would have come out anyway; I am sure Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras would have seen to that!)

I hope it was not a missed opportunity but I fear that it might have been. I suspect the British government’s failure to follow through on its legal threat to Rusbridger was an implicit admission of its own weakness. Next time you can be sure that if the British or American governments move it will be in circumstances much more favorable to their cause.

The Future Of Journalism, Part 2

A great piece by Nick Cohen on The Spectator blog of all places on the arrest at Heathrow airport of Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian partner David Miranda by British customs officers and police from the London Met on spurious suspicions of involvement in terrorism.

No-one believes that of course. The purpose of the exercise is to intimidate Greenwald, the principal reporter in The Guardian of Edward Snowden’s leaks on NSA excesses, a process begun in June by the loathsome David Gregory of NBC. Doubtless Gregory, who suggested The Guardian reporter ought to face charges alongside Snowden, would get his way if Greenwald ever returned to the US

Anyway, here’s the piece. Enjoy:

Always remember mornings like these, the next time police officers and politicians demand more powers to protect us from terrorism. They always sound so reasonable and so concerned for our welfare when they do. For who wants to be blown apart?

But the state said its new powers to intercept communications would be used against terrorists. They ended up using them against fly tippers. Now the police are using the Terrorism Act against the partner of a journalist who is publishing stories the British and American governments would rather keep quiet.

The detention of David Miranda at Heathrow is a clarifying moment that reveals how far Britain has changed for the worse. Nearly everyone suspects the Met held Miranda on trumped up charges because the police, at the behest of the Americans, wanted to intimidate Miranda’s partner Glenn Greenwald, the conduit of Edward Snowden’s revelations, and find out whether more embarrassing information is on Greenwald’s laptop.

The Brazilian government has gone wild. (Greenwald lives in Brazil and his partner is Brazilian.) All kinds of people are saying, quite properly, that although they disagree with Greenwald’s politics they defend the right of citizens to hold governments to account.

You might have thought the Met would have been anxious to reply to its critics. You might have thought – expected indeed – that it would angrily rebut the charges, and provide irrefutable evidence that its officers are not like the goons of a dictatorship but remain the conscientious public servants of a democracy.

The Terrorism Act of 2000, which the Met used against Miranda, says that terrorism involves ‘serious violence against a person’ or ‘serious damage to property’. The police can also detain the alleged terrorist because he or she ‘endangers a person’s life’, ‘poses a serious risk to the health and safety of the public’ or threatens to interfere with ‘an electronic system’.

I wanted to ask the Met: Which of these above offences did your officers suspect that Miranda might have been about to commit? What reasonable grounds did they have for thinking he could endanger lives or property? And, more to the point, which terrorist movement did you believe Miranda was associated with: al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Continuity IRA, ETA, Shiv Sena, the provisional wing of the Unabomber Appreciation Society?

Greenwald may not thank me for saying this but in one respect America is an admirable country. In the US, the police reply to reporters’ questions. They may lie, but at least they reply. In the UK, they say nothing. Chief constables could save precious money and protect front line services by sacking every police press officer in the UK. They are useless. Actually, they are worse than useless: they are sinister. They provide the illusion of accountability while blocking it at every stage.

I phoned the Met press office. You will need to read our statement before we can answer your questions, a spokeswoman said. She emailed me the statement. True to form, it said nothing worth noting:

‘At 08:05 on Sunday 18 August 2013 a 28 year old man was detained at Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
He was not arrested.
He was subsequently released at 17:00.’

That was it. As I, like every other journalist on the story, had further questions, I phoned back.

‘We’re not saying anything else,’ a new flak-catcher said.

I pointed out that the Miranda detention was now an international incident, and that the Met looked as if it was turning into a political police force.

The flak-catcher bridled. ‘We are not politicised,’ he insisted. ‘We are operationally independent.’

‘You can’t just say that,’ I replied. ‘You have to prove it. You have to show you are accountable.’

‘Ah,’ said the flak-catcher. ‘We are legally accountable. But we are not accountable to the media.’

As I understand him, unless Miranda sues, the Met believes it can do what it wants, and behave as badly as it likes, without a word of elucidation or justification.

The Miranda affair is proof, if further proof is needed, that we are now stuck in the post-Leveson world where not only journalists but their partners can be detained and questioned for hours on end. Where police officers feel no need to explain themselves to the public, in whose name they work, and whose taxes pay their salaries. The next time they try to tell you that the secrecy and attempts to silence legitimate debate are ‘in the public interest’, do not forget what they did to David Miranda, because they can do it to you too.

Breathtaking Hypocrisy!

Sometimes the hypocrisy of government can be so brazen it literally takes the breath away. I am still struggling to retain my composure after reading a news story in The Irish Times today sent by a friend in Ireland.

The story dealt with a successful legal move by the NI Secretary, Theresa Villiers and the PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot to prevent the relatives of three victims killed by British security forces from being able to read inquest documents because of British concerns “about the possible disclosure of any sensitive information on members of the security forces”.

Relatives of the three are attempting to re-open their cases and the information is potentially important to them in this effort.

A fuller account than The Irish Times’ is carried in the often excellent Detail website, which I recommend you read.

NI Secretary Theresa Villiers - only other peoples' secrets can be revealed

NI Secretary Theresa Villiers – only other peoples’ secrets can be revealed

The three victims were IRA man Paddy McAdorey who was shot dead by a British Army sniper on the morning of internment, August 9th, 1971; Michael Donnelly who was killed by a plastic bullet in 1980 and Sadie Larmour, a Catholic woman who was shot dead in October 1979. Mrs Larmour’s death is especially intriguing. She was killed at her home in Rodney Drive, in the heart of the Falls Road by a UVF gunman who broke into her home. Why is her killing considered by Villiers and Baggot likely to lead to “sensitive information on members of the security forces?” Don’t we have a right to know?

The hypocrisy is breathtaking because at the same time these two individuals, Baggot directly and Villiers by virtue of her post in the British government, are demanding that all information in the archives of Boston College relating to a killing carried out by the IRA must be handed over, no exceptions allowed.

So here we have a classic example of double standards. Boston College must hand over everything but the British can seek to hide what they will, and probably will get away with it. Unless that it is public opinion can be mobilised to force them to play by the same rules they apply to everyone else. Over to you, Irish media. There’s a story here. You do remember what a story is don’t you?

Disgraceful Scenes On Royal Avenue

Clifford Peeples is not exactly the sort of person who would be high up on most peoples’ list of possible dinner guests. There doesn’t seem to have been a  brand of violent Loyalism that he has not been involved with, no outer limit of wacky, ultra-Protestant evangelism that he has not crossed. And then there were those pipe bomb attacks in the late 1990’s for which he was given a ten-year jail term.

Clifford Peeples, on the right, leaves Long Kesh with Pastor Kenny McClinton

Clifford Peeples, on the right, leaves Long Kesh with Pastor Kenny McClinton

I would not have a problem entertaining him myself but others would. I have spent much of my professional life breaking bread or ingesting stronger substances with greater and more mendacious blackguards than he, and while I have never met Mr Peeples, he strikes me from a distance as an honest type. Loopy almost surely, but probably sincere. Others I have entertained did or ordered worse than he and happily admitted so in my presence but now pretend it never happened. So, who is worse, who is worthy of more respect?

Anyway, these days Peeples wears a different hat, or rather has another hat to wear alongside the others hanging in his wardrobe. I don’t know what he does politically or whether he still preaches in a tin hut somewhere in the desolate wastes of north or east Belfast but currently he also practises as a freelance photographer.

His work is sold through the freelance agency Demotix, which has a distinguished international record of capturing important images in places as far apart as Tehran and Norway. As the pic of a policeman injured during Friday night’s disturbances on Royal Avenue below demonstrates, newspapers like The Guardian consider Peeples’ work good enough to buy and publish.


Purists in my profession would cavil at the notion of a political activist doubling as a journalist but personally I don’t have a problem with it at all. Politics and journalism go together like fish and chips and while I do try to separate my own views from my reporting, I understand it in others – as long as they are upfront and straight about it. In practice I have found the reporters most po-faced on the issue to be the most hypocritical.

What I do mind however is when journalists allow their political differences, or personal animosities fueled by political differences, to spill out in public shows of malevolence and threats of violence, especially when the effect is to stop or obstruct a journalist doing his or her job.

According to Clifford Peeples this is what happened to him in the centre of Belfast last Friday night during Loyalist demonstrations in Royal Avenue against an anti-internment rally being staged by republican dissidents. Eye-witnesses  apparently support his story.

Peeples was on assignment for a website called ‘Ulster News’ which seems to be relatively new addition to the internet, given that the only story running on it is about his experience last Friday evening. He was, he says, busy taking photographs of the developing riot when he was verbally assaulted by a fellow journalist and so violent was the onslaught that a policeman on riot duty had to leave the lines to intervene. I don’t know what the source of the anger towards Peeples was, but the chances are that it has its origins in his political activity.

This is how he described the attack:

Screaming that I was a “dirty fat bastard” and continuing with threats of “I’m going to fix you, you Fucking Fat, Fucking Cunt”. This continued as I tried to report on what was taking place. Police officers were being injured and a full riot was now about to engulf Royal Avenue…….I told him to stop screaming obscenities and if he wanted he could talk to me later round the corner.  He continued on his obscenity fueled diatribe, making more threats of physical violence towards me. Something that was of concern to those standing around him. One woman was telling him to, “stop behaving like some mad man on drugs”. His disgraceful barrage became too much for one riot control officer, who broke away from keeping public order and publicly reprimanded him, telling him he would be arrested if he were to continue. The officer came to me and told me that he had warned him about his behaviour and that I should stay away from him. The officer then reengaged with the riot control team.

So who was the journalist attacking Peeples? Turns out it was Ciaran Barnes, Sunday Life reporter and the man whose dishonest reporting of Dolours Price’s IRA career touched off the Boston College subpoenas and who, using a false name on the internet, urged me to hand over the interviews so confidential sources could be burned, the worst sin in journalism’s playbook.

Ciaran Barnes

Ciaran Barnes

The NUJ’s Code of Conduct says nothing about how journalists should disport themselves in public, how they should not engage in violent verbal assaults against colleagues or threaten to use violence against them or behave publicly in such a way to bring disrepute on the profession. Perhaps it’s time it did.