Category: National Security

Breivik court verdict: security lessons?

by Robert Lambert 

Now that the legal question of Anders Breivik’s sanity has been resolved it should be possible to focus more closely on his political motivation and the security lessons that arise from this case. This should help inform a debate about how best to tackle the growing problem of far right violence in Europe and the US

Today Anders Breivik’s trial came to a conclusion when he was found to be sane and sentenced to a maximum twenty one years in prison. Previously two teams of court-appointed psychiatrists who examined Breivik had reached opposite conclusions. The first said that he was a paranoid schizophrenic, and the second assessed him to be sane.

As the psychiatrist Tad Tietse noted in respect of the first report, it may have told us ‘more about the socially embedded nature of psychiatric diagnosis and the prevailing political climate in Norway than any claim it was the result of some kind of cold, hard, value-free science’. Be that as it may, it is to be hoped that if and when the next serious case of far right terrorism takes place in Europe or the US, governments, police and judiciary will have a better grasp of the political rationale that drives it irrespective of the mental profile(s) of the individual perpetrator(s).

To express the same point on a different premise:  it is to be hoped that far right terrorists will in the future be treated the same as all other terrorists. Whether they operate as ‘lone wolves’ (or ‘solo terrorists’) their far right political affiliations (like Breivk’s prior membership of the Progress Party) should not be lightly disregarded.

Notably, the legal and medical fixation with Breivik’s mental health followed an immediate interest in the same topic by political commentators determined to deny a political terrorist motivation for Breivik’s violence.

Such a strong focus on the mental wellbeing of the accused is unusual in a case of political terrorism. That said, cases of political terrorism are rare in Norway and it is probable that the psychiatrists in the case lacked experience of examining politically motivated individuals like Breivik. Unfamiliarity with political violence might help explain a failure on the part of the first team of psychiatrists to grasp the significance of Breivik’s lengthy manifesto 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence - a document he circulated to hundreds of contacts that helps reveal the extent to which he was influenced by a global anti-Muslim movement known as the Counter Jihad Movement.

Significantly, the counter-jihad movement contains commentators who are notoriously quick to link a handful of al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in Europe and the US to what they call the ideology of radical Islam or Islamism (or sometimes Islam itself). In fact, the links (in terms of a shared political ideology) may be much closer between prominent members of the counter jihad movement and Breivik than between most al-Qaeda terrorists and many mainstream Muslims who are regularly and pejoratively stigmatised as fellow travellers or closet supporters of al-Qaeda by the counter jihad movement.

It should not be left to Breivik to explain and promote his political motivation and his political campaign from his prison cell. Now is the time to expose it, discern its proximity to the counter jihad movement and, at some points, its alarming appropriation of mainstream discourse on Islamism, Muslims and immigration. To hide instead behind the legalities of sanity and insanity serves Breivik’s victims – and the unknown or unremarked victims of countless acts of lesser political violence against Muslims, ethnic minorities, immigrants and their allies – very poorly indeed.

Duty to the victims and the bereaved

The overwhelming majority of Anders Breivik’s victims were young, left wing activists who would still be alive today if their killer had not taken his attachment to far right politics to such a lethal conclusion. While their bereaved parents, siblings, relatives and friends are bound to be relieved that Breivik has finally been brought to justice at least some will, in addition, be eager to understand why and how he carried out his violent acts as part of their difficult bereavement journeys.

For some it may be comforting to witness the overwhelming majority of their fellow citizens standing steadfastly against a significant minority of far right bigots. But political terrorists like Breivik are always a tiny minority (within a much larger community of like minded activists) who will seek to conceal their preparations so as to avoid detection prior to carrying out their criminal attacks. Therefore, for all that is positive and effective in ‘open confrontation with right-wing bloggers and activists’ as a ‘strategy to combat [far right] extremism’ it is also necessary to tackle far right terrorism and political violence as effectively as any other kind, including that which is carried out or threatened by Muslim extremists, generally under an al-Qaeda banner .

Police failings

Just weeks before the verdict was announced, an official report highlighted police failings that may have prevented Breivik being arrested shortly after his first bomb attack against a government building in Oslo and before he landed on Utoya Island to carry out a shooting spree. The report also highlighted a separate police failure to arrive on Utoya Island as speedily as possible and thereby bring an earlier halt to the killing.

The second of these two failures revolved around a decision by police officers to wait for expert colleagues before taking a ferry to Utoya Island – a disturbing scenario that suggests a negative example of ‘health and safety’ culture overruling a fundamental police commitment to public safety. As a result Norway’s police chief Oeystein Maeland resigned from his post.

Less explicit, the report suggested that ‘with better ways of working and a broader focus, the police security service could have become aware of the perpetrator prior to 22 July’. This might well be taken to refer to missed intelligence opportunities to monitor Breivik after he purchased ingredients for his bomb. It is hard to imagine that such a failure would have occurred if Breivik had instead been an identifiable Muslim purchasing the same ingredients in the same circumstances.

The report was oddly silent on Breivik’s far right political motivation saying instead that it had ‘foregone issues related to the perpetrator’s motive….’ and intriguingly, that it had ‘not explored the measures society puts in place for the early prevention of radicalisation’.

Far right radicalisation

How might the ‘early prevention of radicalisation’ relate to Breivik’s case? Had Breivik been a member or associate of a white supremacist or neo-Nazi organisation it is reasonably safe to assume that he would have been actively monitored by police and police security services. Instead, Breivik was able to take advantage of the fact that his prior membership of the Progress Party and his wide engagement with the counter jihad movement was apparently not regarded as evidence of ‘extremism’ or as a basis for reasonable suspicion in his activities.

There are numerous examples of how ‘the new far right’ has successfully re-invented itself and created sufficient distance from ‘the old far right’ so as to become immune to pro-active police and security investigation. In the UK, for example, government and police have steadfastly refused to cast the English Defence League (EDL) in the role of ‘extremists’ despite a growing catalogue of violence carried out by its members and supporters. In consequence EDL (and their counter-jihad counterparts across Europe and the US) are considered as more of a public order or social cohesion problem than a counter-terrorist or political violence issue. As a result they are not considered as suitable for ‘counter-radicalisation’ strategies in the way that supposedly ‘radical’ Muslims often are.

Instead, in Norway, across Europe and the US, ‘the early prevention of radicalisation’ has come to denote intrusive strategies that are aimed at individual Muslims who are suspected or deemed to be at risk of radicalisation into violent (or increasingly non violent) Muslim extremism (which includes terrorism inspired or directed by al–Qaeda). The UK has been a leader in this field of work and while some work carried out under the Prevent umbrella has been narrowly and effectively focused on terrorism and violent extremism other strands of work has been ineffective and counter-productive by virtue of being too broadly cast against politically active Muslims who pose no threat to security or social cohesion.

It is far from certain that any of Anders Breivik’s victims – particularly those members of AUF (Labour Youth) killed on Utoya Island who he regarded as prime targets – would be alive today if their killer had received psychiatric treatment or counselling during the months he was planning his acts of terrorism. In contrast, it is safe to assume that the AUF summer camp of 2011 would have reached a peaceful non-violent conclusion if Breivik had not become influenced by the Counter Jihad Movement. So rather than medical help did Breivik need political counselling?

This is not an idle thought. In neighbouring Sweden, for example, there is an experienced street based group in Stockholm called Exit run by former far right activists that helps individuals disengage from far right politics and far right violence. Admittedly, Breivik was not as visibly engaged in far right politics as some Exit clients but if he had been subject to closer security monitoring it is entirely feasible that he could have been ear marked for such an intervention.

Even handed counter-terrorism policy

However, so long as the disparate elements of the counter jihad movement in particular, and the new far right movement in general, are wrongly treated as somehow representing a lesser threat of extremism and violence than their less sophisticated neo-Nazi colleagues in the old far right we will fail to tackle the motivation for both Breivik’s actions and hundreds of acts of lesser political violence that have gone largely unremarked during the last decade.

It is of course vital not to infringe the civil liberties of far right activists and counter jihad activists unless there is compelling evidence of the kind that might have arisen during Breivik’s long period of terrorist preparation and planning. That said, it is equally vital that governments and law enforcement agencies do not show sensitivity to the civil rights of the far right and the counter jihad movement while disregarding the civil rights of politically active Muslims. From now on there needs to be an even handed counter-terrorism policy in Europe and the US.

Robert Lambert is Lecturer at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews. He is the author of Countering al-Qaeda in London: Police and Muslims in Partnership, Hurst, London in September 2011.

This article was first published at Open Democracy / Open Security

The Far Right Takes Root in Europe

by Mariano Aguirre
 
Anders Behring Breivik’s attacks are part of a worrying trend in Europe: the far right’s rise within mainstream politics.

 
The bloodthirsty attacks perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway on July 22 last year (leaving 77 dead) provided a brutal awakening for all those in Europe who had been passively observing the rise of the Islamophobic far right. As the trial opens, around thirty political parties that openly call for a “pure European identity” are effectively in the process of consolidating their parliamentary positions (occasionally even signing agreements with mainstream right wing parties, as is the case in the Netherlands), and are claiming an ever greater media presence.

 These parties, following the example of the Nordic Forum, are adept at using new technology and social networks, which gives them an even greater platform to spread their messages of hate and bolster their national and international alliances. 

Those responsible for this noxious propaganda always hide behind the principle of freedom of expression, and, when they are criticised for the speeches they deliver encouraging the Breiviks of the future, they assert that the carnage perpetrated by this “lone wolf” has nothing to do with the climate that they have helped to create. Indeed, they present themselves as victims that are being suppressed. They make out that Europe will ultimately lose its “Christian identity”. These demagogues are active both inside and outside the electoral system: just as they have an elected presence in the parliaments, on the other hand they endlessly criticise democracies, accusing them of being far too liberal on the issue of immigration.

The European far right is seduced by the fantasy of a “pure” Europe as opposed to a real Europe, which is in fact successfully diversified. Like Anders Behring Breivik, thousands of individuals that haunt websites and blogs (Gates of Vienna, Brussels Journal), organisations such as the English Defence League, Platform per Catalunya, or Militia Christi, as well as religious leaders are all actively preparing fertile ground for the growth of extremism. 

A study at the University of Nottingham undertaken for Chatham House by Matthew Goodwin demonstrates that extremist parties are primarily characterised by their visceral opposition to immigration (particularly Muslim immigration), to ethnic diversity, and finally to multiculturalism, alongside social behaviours that they consider to be a great danger to Europe. 

Further, they think that mainstream political parties are far too “soft” in their responses to the issues surrounding immigration. Another study, by Elisabeth Ivarsflaten , shows that populist parties have always had their greatest electoral successes after integrating a strong anti-immigration strand into their speeches and manifestos. 

These “new” populists carefully avoid the usual racist and anti-Semitic discourse, and prefer to position their stance more subtly, around questions of culture and identity. Paradoxically, they claim two conflicting identities: Christian through their recognition of a mythological European past, and secular in their fight against Islam. 

They fight “Marxist” politicians, or those that are too liberal. It’s with this in mind that Anders Behring Breivik attacked the government buildings in Oslo and subsequently the summer camp of young labour party activists on Utøya island. They are generally pro-American, have close working relationships with the far right in the United States, and consider Israel to be a defensive western bulwark against Islam. During times of crisis they also use the argument of the welfare state to justify themselves: they contend that immigrants are stealing jobs and scamming the welfare state, in particular social security, as they have many more children than the European average, and so on. 

In his manifesto – a vast copy and paste job of the greatest hits of extremist ideas – Anders Behring Breivik opposed the welfare state and a pluralistic hegemonic identity. “European societies” he wrote “must be able to rely on a solid social cohesion, which can only really exist in a monocultural system where everyone has complete confidence in one another.”

Goodwin’s study reveals that the majority of those who vote for populist parties come from a modest background or the middle classes. They are also often small business owners or farmers afraid of drastic economic and social change. “Market globalisation and economic deregulation have hurled the planet into an era of uncertainty which is inevitably provoking fear” reminds Javier de Lucas, professor at the University of Valencia. To this, the extreme right counters with a riposte made up of simplistic formulas, and lays responsibility for the all the economic and social woes on “the politicians”, “leftists” and immigrants. 

As the philosopher Slavoj Zizek concludes: “The only way to introduce passion into this kind of politics, the only way to actively mobilise people, is through fear: the fear of immigrants, the fear of crime…”

Timid counter-offensives 

Moderate politicians remain relatively impotent in the face of attacks from the far right, and when they attempt a riposte, they do so in a contradictory fashion: centre-left parties – to avoid losing a public that is sensitive to these issues – willingly revisit the pet subjects of the far right, in particular immigration. In fact, Europe is imposing ever more restrictive policies to limit the right to asylum and inward migratory flow, while at the same time political parties are lauding “greater tolerance” towards foreigners. The reality is that xenophobic sentiments are on the rise, and immigrant Muslim populations and their culture are being increasingly rejected. 

If Europe wants to sustain growth, then it will need to open the door wide to immigration. However, this argument does not succeed in halting the advance of Islamophobia. “There is something that worries me far more than the growth of the far right at the 2010 ballot, explains Thomas Hammarberg , Commissioner for Human Rights at the European Council:

“and that is the profound inertia and above all confusion that seems to reign amongst moderate democratic parties of both the left and right. One even has the impression that these parties have come to accept the narrative of hatred and that this unencumbered xenophobia has been integrated into the political discourse as though it were something quite ordinary: their leaders have totally failed to check this rise in Islamophobia.”

Leading media outlets have opened the debate, keeping centrally in their sights the fact that a major segment of their audience is sliding steadily, at least electorally speaking, towards the populist right. Meanwhile new ultra-nationalist media outlets are appearing on the media landscape, just as they have in the UnitedStates , along with thousands of websites and books, which for the most part, have been able to find a place in the unfolding discussions as though they were serious political institutions. 

It is thus that the British essayist Bat Yeor, using her real name Gisele Littman-Orebi, invented the famous Euro-Arabian axis (or Eurabia), abundantly referenced by Breivik in his manifesto, and in which Europe will sooner or later be conquered by Muslims. The author explains that Jews and Christians will be subjected to Islamic law. 

“Today, freedom of speech is complete and the essence of what is published is neither edited nor censored,” comments Sindre Bangstad, a teacher at the University of Oslo.

“Islamophobic discourse can spread much more easily than before. In this context, outlandish opinions like those held by Breivik are barely discernible from those found on some social networks, and sometimes even in the mainstream media in Norway…” 

Nevertheless, dangerous agitators are by no means all paranoid and bloodthirsty madmen. The highly respectable German social-democrat economist Thilo Sarrazin published a book in 2010 in which he very seriously explained that his country will become more and more impoverished and lose its identity as well as its potential, because Turkish and Arab immigrants possess a lower IQ. He maintains that his ideas are supported by a third of Germans who believe that the state should limit immigration and the practice of Islam. In October 2010 Angela Merkel declared, “Multiculturalism has failed”. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, said exactly the same thing a few days later. In September 2011, the German National Democratic Party (NDP) gained 6% of the vote in the Mecklenburg-West Pomeranian parliament, an unprecedented result in that country. 

On the question of immigration, centre-left parties have two options: ‘integration’ or ‘assimilation’. The concept of assimilation has suffused political discourse since the 1980s: it suggests that immigrants must adapt to ‘our’ society and renounce all or part of their religion, culture or traditions. ‘Integration’, for its part, allows ‘new citizens’ to keep their idiosyncrasies, as have all prior immigrant groups for that matter. In its modern sense, integration expects a mutual attempt to adapt and notably, the acceptance of the welcoming country of the religion of those that it is seeking to welcome. 

Attempts to make religious symbols disappear from public spaces (minarets, burkhas, veils, mosques…) are more and more vocal, Olivier Roy noted in 2009 in ‘L’Islam en Europe, une religion qui doit être traitée comme les autres’, pointing out that Europe wanted to have immigrants working here, but wanted them to be invisible. 

In a general sense, both strategies have failed. Immigrant communities have more of a tendency to isolate themselves to avoid being assimilated. They often feel discriminated against, and the societies that are hosting them don’t feel the need to change anything at all to accommodate them since they consider the immigrants to be an undifferentiated and fragmented external group. In Germany, after forty years of communal living, Turkish and German populations still only know very little about each other. It’s a paradox.

Goodwin’s study has also dug up worrying results regarding the political response to the extreme right in general. Since political parties became ‘electoral machines’, populist parties have been fully exploiting their ability to directly address the electorate and respond to their concerns about immigration, which the other parties do not do. 

Are we ready to abandon our community-based approaches in order to adopt a multi-strand citizenry founded on fundamental shared norms and values? 

“European society in its plurality is collectively responsible,” explains Javier De Lucas. “We need to teach our societies to accept an evolution towards a multicultural world and to negotiate this change successfully. Unfortunately however, society is not moving. It is not very motivated, and very restrictive migratory politics are sending contrary signals: without negotiation, a desire to change, to evolve, the unilateral integration project of immigrant populations is doomed to fail.”

Mariano Aguirre is the director of the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre (Noref) in Oslo

Translated by Tristan Summerscale. This article was originally published in French in Le Monde Diplomatique on March 10, 2012. 

 

The WikiLeaks War Logs Don’t Show Rare War Crimes–They Show The (Legal) Reality of War

by Chase Madar
 
The real problem with the laws of war is not what they fail to restrain but what they authorize.

Anyone who would like to witness a vivid example of modern warfare that adheres to the laws of war — that corpus of regulations developed painstakingly over centuries by jurists, humanitarians, and soldiers, a body of rules that is now an essential, institutionalized part of the U.S. armed forces and indeed all modern militaries — should simply click here and watch the video.

Wait a minute: that’s the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” video!  The gunsight view of an Apache helicopter opening fire from half a mile high on a crowd of Iraqis — a few armed men, but mostly unarmed civilians, including a couple of Reuters employees — as they unsuspectingly walked the streets of a Baghdad suburb one July day in 2007. 

Watch, if you can bear it, as the helicopter crew blows people away, killing at least a dozen of them, and taking good care to wipe out the wounded as they try to crawl to safety.  (You can also hear the helicopter crew making wisecracks throughout.) When a van comes on the scene to tend to the survivors, the Apache gunship opens fire on it too, killing a few more and wounding two small children.

The slaughter captured in this short film, the most virally sensational of WikiLeaks’ disclosures, was widely condemned as an atrocity worldwide, and many pundits quickly labeled it a “war crime” for good measure.

But was this massacre really a “war crime” — or just plain-old regular war?  The question is anything but a word-game. It is, in fact, far from clear that this act, though plainly atrocious and horrific, was a violation of the laws of war.  Some have argued that the slaughter, if legal, was therefore justified and, though certainly unfortunate, no big deal. But it is possible to draw a starkly different conclusion: that the “legality” of this act is an indictment of the laws of war as we know them.

The reaction of professional humanitarians to the gun-sight video was muted, to say the least.  The big three human rights organizations — Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and Human Rights First — responded not with position papers and furious press releases but with silence.  HRW omitted any mention of it in its report on human rights and war crimes in Iraq, published nearly a year after the video’s release.  Amnesty also kept mum.  Gabor Rona, legal director of Human Rights First, told me there wasn’t enough evidence to ascertain whether the laws of war had been violated, and that his organization had no Freedom of Information Act requests underway to uncover new evidence on the matter.

This collective non-response, it should be stressed, is not because these humanitarian groups, which do much valuable work, are cowardly or “sell-outs.”  The reason is: all three human rights groups, like human rights doctrine itself, are primarily concerned with questions of legality.  And quite simply, as atrocious as the event was, there was no clear violation of the laws of war to provide a toehold for the professional humanitarians.

The human rights industry is hardly alone in finding the event disturbing but in conformance with the laws of war.  As Professor Gary Solis, a leading expert and author of a standard text on those laws, told Scott Horton of Harper’s Magazine, “I believe it unlikely that a neutral and detached investigator would conclude that the helicopter personnel violated the laws of armed conflict.  Legal guilt does not always accompany innocent death.”  It bears noting that Gary Solis is no neocon ultra.  A scholar who has taught at the London School of Economics and Georgetown, he is the author of a standard textbook on the subject, and was an unflinching critic of the Bush-Cheney administration.

War and International “Humanitarian” Law

“International humanitarian law,” or IHL, is the trying-too-hard euphemism for the laws of war.  And as it happens, IHL turns out to be less concerned with restraining military violence than licensing it.  As applied to America’s recent wars, this body of law turns out to be wonderfully accommodating when it comes to the prerogatives of an occupying army.

Here’s another recent example of a wartime atrocity that is perfectly legal and not a war crime at all. Thanks to WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs, we now know about the commonplace torture practices employed by Iraqi jailers and interrogators during our invasion and occupation of that country.  We have clear U.S. military documentation of sexual torture, of amputated fingers and limbs, of beatings so severe they regularly resulted in death.

Surely standing by and taking careful notes while the Iraqi people you have supposedly liberated from tyranny are getting tortured, sometimes to death, is a violation of the laws of war.  After all, in 2005 General Peter Pace, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly contradicted his boss Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by commenting into a live mike that it is “absolutely the responsibility of every American soldier to stop torture whenever and wherever they see it.” (A young private working in Army Intelligence named Bradley Manning, learning that a group of Iraqi civilians handing out pamphlets alleging government corruption had been detained by the Iraqi federal police, raised his concern with his commanding officer about their possible torture.  He was reportedly told him to shut up and get back to work helping the authorities find more detainees.)

As it turned out, General Pace’s exhortation was at odds with both official policy and law: Fragmentary Order 242, issued by Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, made it official policy for occupying U.S. troops not to interfere with ongoing Iraqi torture.  And this, according to some experts, is no violation of the laws of war either. Prolix on the limits imposed on the acts of non-state fighters who are not part of modern armies, the Geneva Conventions are remarkably reticent on the duties of occupying armies.  

As Gary Solis pointed out to me, Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention assigns only a vague obligation to “ensure respect” for prisoners handed over to a third party.  On the ground in either Iraq or Afghanistan, this string of words would prove a less-than-meaningful constraint.

Part of the problem is that the laws of war that aspire to restrain deadly force are often weakly enforced and routinely violated. Ethan McCord, the American soldier who saved the two wounded children from that van in the helicopter video, remembers one set of instructions he received from his battalion commander: “Anytime your convoy gets hit by an IED, I want 360 degree rotational fire.  You kill every [expletive] in the street!”  (“That order,” David Glazier, a jurist at the National Institute for Military Justice, told me, “is absolutely a war crime.”)  In other words, the rules of engagement that are supposed to constrain occupying troops in places like Afghanistan and Iraq are, according to many scholars and investigators, often belittled and ignored.

Legalized Atrocity

The real problem with the laws of war, however, is not what they fail to restrain but what they authorize.  The primary function of International Humanitarian Law is to legalize remarkable levels of “good” military violence that regularly kill and injure non-combatants.  IHL highlights a handful of key principles: the distinction between combatant and civilian, the obligation to use force only for military necessity, and the duty to jeopardize civilians only in proportion to the military value of a target.

Even when these principles are applied conscientiously — and often they aren’t — they still allow for remarkable levels of civilian carnage, which the Pentagon has long primly (and conveniently) referred to as “collateral damage,” as if it were a sad sideline in the prosecution of war.  And yet civilian deaths in modern war regularly are the central aspect of those wars, both statistically and in other ways.  Far from being universally proscribed, the killing of high numbers of civilians in a battle zone is often considered absolutely legal under those laws.  In the pungent phrase of Professor David Kennedy of Harvard Law School, “We should be clear — this bold new vocabulary beats ploughshares into swords as often as the reverse.”

The relative weakness of the laws of war when it comes to preventing atrocities is not simply some recent debasement perpetrated by neoconservative Visigoths.  Privileging the combatant and his (it’s usually “his”) prerogatives has been the historical bone marrow of those laws.  In the Vietnam War, for instance, the declaration of significant parts of the South Vietnamese countryside as “free-fire zones,” and the “carpet bombing” of rural areas by B-52s carrying massive payloads were also done under cover of the laws of war.

IHL has certainly changed in some respects.  A century ago, the discourse around the laws of war was far more candid than today.  Jurists once regularly referred to “non-uniformed unprivileged combatants” simply as “savages” and the consensus view in mainstream scholarly journals of international law was that a modern army could do whatever it wanted to such obstreperous, lawless people (especially, of course, in what was still then the colonial world).  On the whole, the history of IHL is a long record of codifying the privileges of the powerful against lesser threats like civilians and colonial subjects resisting invasion.

Even though the laws of war have usually been one more weapon of the strong against the weak, a great deal of their particular brand of legalism has seeped into antiwar discourse. One of the key talking points for many arguing against the invasion of Iraq was that it was illegal — and that was certainly true.  But was the failure to procure a permission slip from the United Nations really the main problem with this calamitous act of violence?  Would U.N. authorization really have redeemed any of it?  There is also a growing faith that war can be domesticated under a relatively new rubric, “humanitarian intervention,” which purports to apply military violence in precise and therapeutic dosages, all strictly governed by international humanitarian law.

Here is where the WikiLeaks disclosures were so revealing.  They remind us, once again, that the humanitarian dream of “clean warfare” — military violence that is smoothly regulated by laws that spare civilians — is usually a sick joke.  We need to wean ourselves from the false comfort that the law is always on the side of civilians.  We need to scrap our tendency to assume that international law is inherently virtuous, and that anything that shocks our conscience — that helicopter video or widespread torture in Iraq under the noses of U.S. soldiers — must be a violation of this system, rather than its logical and predictable consequence.

Let’s be clear: what killed the civilians walking the streets of Baghdad that day in 2007 was not “war crimes,” but war.  And that holds for so many thousands of other Afghan and Iraqi civilians killed by drone strikes, air strikes, night raids, convoys, and nervous checkpoint guards as well.

Regulatory Capture

Who, after all, writes the laws of war?  Just as the regulations that govern the pharmaceutical and airline industries are often gamed by large corporations with their phalanxes of lobbyists, the laws of war are also vulnerable to “regulatory capture” by the great powers under their supposed rule. Keep in mind, for instance, that the Pentagon employs 10,000 lawyers and that its junior partner in foreign policy making, the State Department, has a few hundred more.  Should we be surprised if in-house lawyers can sort out “legal” ways not to let those laws of war get in the way of the global ambitions of a superpower?

It’s only fair that the last words on the laws of war go to Private Bradley Manning, now sitting in a prison cell in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, awaiting court-martial for allegedly passing troves of classified material to WikiLeaks, documents that offer the unvarnished truth about the Afghan War, the Iraq War, and Guantánamo.  They are taken from the instant-message chatlogs he wrote under the handle of “bradass87” to the informant who turned him in.  The young private saw very clearly what so many professors and generals take pains to deny: that the primary function of the laws of war is not to restrain violence, but to justify it, often with the greatest lawyerly ingenuity.

(02:27:47 PM) bradass87: i mean, we’re better in some respects… we’re much more subtle… use a lot more words and legal techniques to legitimize everything…

(02:28:19 PM) bradass87: but just because something is more subtle, doesn’t make it right

 

Chase Madar, is the author of a new book, The Passion of Bradley Manning (OR Books), is a lawyer in New York.   Madar tweets @ChMadar
 
First published at AlterNet.org

The Precariat – The new dangerous class

by Guy Standing

For the first time in history, the mainstream left has no progressive agenda. It has forgotten a basic principle. Every progressive political movement has been built on the anger, needs and aspirations of the emerging major class. Today that class is the precariat.

So far, the precariat in Europe has been mostly engaged in EuroMayDay parades and loosely organised protests. But this is changing rapidly, as events in Spain and Greece are showing, following on the precariat-led uprisings in the middle-east. Remember that welfare states were built only when the working class mobilised through collective action to demand the relevant policies and institutions. The precariat is busy defining its demands.

The precariat has emerged from the liberalisation that underpinned globalisation. Politicians should beware. It is a new dangerous class, not yet what Karl Marx would have described as a class-for-itself, but a class-in-the-making, internally divided into angry and bitter factions.

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Super terrorism after Osama bin Laden

by Marko Beljac 

From the end of the cold war to the death of Osama bin Laden the prospect of acts of super or mass casualty terrorism, by means of weapons of mass destruction, has been one of the most salient global security issues.

The death of the founding emir of al Qaeda serves as a useful reference point to review just how significant this prospect really was. Much could be said in any such analysis, but surely a discussion of the terrorists own ideology and grand strategy would figure highly.

The interesting thing here is that the existing literature on the topic is dominated by works coming from the arms control and non-proliferation community. Unsurprisingly this literature focuses on the analytical strength of non-proliferation studies, namely nuclear and biological security. What it does not focus on is the terrorists themselves.

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