Friday, 26 February 2010

More protective words from Tom Harris

Further to our prior correspondence, another exchange with Tom Harris, MP.

24 February 2010

Dear Mr Hilley

Please forgive my failure to previously to give you [sic] an unambiguous response to your request that I sign Early Day Motion 502: I will not.

As for Ivan Lewis's membership of Labour Friends of Israel, I am absolutely confident that membership of Labour Friends of Israel, as indeed a pro-Palestinian grouping, would have no bearing on his ability to carry out his ministerial duties.

Best wishes

Tom Harris MP
Member of Parliament for Glasgow South


26 February 2010

Dear Mr Harris

Thanks for your unqualified statement on Early Day Motion 502. Your rejection of a parliamentary initiative to bring known state murderers to justice is duly noted. The main point was to have your dismissal of 502 on record.

Yes, Ivan Lewis is most able to dispense his ministerial duties, foremost among which is his government's selective resolve to protect and advance Israeli interests at all costs. Lewis's Labour Friends of Israel membership and his ministerial duties for the Middle East are an obvious conflict of interest and should invalidate him from holding such office.

I'm sure you can also see how that close affiliation influences Lewis's and other LFI members' view of the issues, including Goldstone, but choose to deny the obvious with your "confident" 'assurance' about his ministerial 'objectivity'. It's all part of the same political closure reserved for Israel.

The Foreign Office's soft treatment of Israel and its ambassador over the recent assassination in Dubai is the latest example of that selective protection. Imagine the government's reaction if such a plot, with covert use of UK passports, had been carried out by Iranian agents.

Actually, I'd prefer an 'I support Israel unreservedly' response rather than the tortured circumventions noted in this correspondence. The former, at least, is true. Readers of these exchanges will form their own view, but I don't think they're so gullible and naive as to believe that people like Lewis and yourself hold neutral, disinterested positions.

It's that coupling of bland official-speak and coy evasion which so diminishes politicians in the public's eye.

I'm a great believer in clarity of one's beliefs, loyalties and subjective feelings. Better being straightforward and open about the causes we endorse. I support the Palestinian people, the illegally occupied and oppressed in this case. You and Lewis support the Israeli state, the illegal occupier and oppressor. Our personal words and actions demonstrate the choices we make in helping to end or maintain that oppression. No more need be said.


John Hilley

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Love and money - at the movies

Whatever their risky impulses, people generally value relative security in economic and emotional matters. Many, of course, revel in the chance and insecurity of speculative activity, financial and romantic. But, for most, there's usually a human limit to such gambles and flutters. Basically, we take primal comfort in being nurtured and loved.

The intricacies of love and money have been captured in a thousand make-believe movies. From Some Like It Hot to Slumdog Millionaire, our fascination for riches of the pocket and treasures of the heart provide the illusionary cushion to the dreamily fanciful or rarely realisable.

Some permit a little more critical inspection of the theme, such as Up In the Air, Hollywood's current take on the dual issues of mercenary economics and personal affairs. It's a tale of corporate and emotional detachment from human concerns, a feel-good-feel-bad mix on the clinical truths of life and love under the credit crunch.

Though conveyed in soft whimsical style - liberal Hollywood's sanitised nod to the recessionary detritus - George Clooney's professional bad-news dispenser helps depict the cruel execution of the company firing process, the multi-faceted trauma of employees facing rejection and losing their livelihoods, in some cases contemplating the final abyss. Like Clooney's multi-air-miled check-in case, people are regarded, and discarded, as "baggage", their worth stripped-down to basic requirements, their needs and complexities too cumbersome to carry and hold.

Threatening this clinical 'reality', Clooney's rigidly-controlled lifestyle is disrupted by the potentialities of love and lust, a mixture of hot passion and cold calculus serving to pose more human questions about what's really valuable in life.

Though ultimately a cosy escapist narrative, evading the true unsparing nature of the corporate machine, there's still something useful in the film's coy message that love and the need to be wanted are more important than lonely gratification and instant materialism.

There's nothing new here, of course. With box-office alertness, Hollywood has always been ready to tap into emotional disenchantment with capitalism's impersonal hand. For example, screen favourites like It's a Wonderful Life carry an enduring message of human fortitude, announcing that, even in the face of economic depression and despair, love and loyalty can conquer profit and greed.

Yet, beyond such celluloid homilies, the constant incursion of economic insecurity into our lives remains a sobering limitation to love and wellbeing. We may take a certain message of hope from screened poverty, but there's no romanticising the real take.

Being poor is not just a question of being part of an economic 'underclass'. (That term was always, to the mind of my old sociology lecturer, a misnomer in itself - as though being 'beneath' the lowest recognised class level - "working" - gave those struggling on token wages some kind of respectable economic status relative to those on just paltry benefits or worse.) It robs people of their right to emotional sustenance, including the space to develop one's loving couplings. Riches certainly don't always bring happiness - 'money can't buy me love' - but a little economic reassurance can go a long way in promoting stress-reduced relations.

Almost thirteen years on from the Blairite 'coming', social and economic division in Britain has never been more expansive. New Labour just gave Thatcherism the Tony-love-smile Mrs tough-love lacked. Nowadays, the only discernible difference walking the depressed streets of Glasgow's east end is the greater proliferation of cold, metal panopticon cameras, keeping a stern eye on the 'lowly' orders. Like the CCTV monitors in the much-acclaimed Red Road, maybe they're recording year-on-year footage of the bleak human decline, a loveless archive of those marked out for a life of appointed deprivation.

All of which, as Ian Bell observes, makes redundant the conventional language of "class":
"This is not an accident. The gap between rich and poor has not reached its widest point since the war thanks to some act of God. A supremely talented elite deserving its golden ticket has not arisen from nowhere. Money breeds money; poverty breeds poverty; and those with the power to amend this state of affairs like it that way. Given income distributions, life chances, and the unbreakable circuits of self-selecting privilege, we should cease to speak of class and start talking about caste.
"Each according to their station, each according to their caste. Disadvantage is perpetuated while the lie of opportunity for all is maintained. In reality, the sole rational ambition for those born poor is simply to escape poverty. A seat on the board is not on offer. Yet millions of the naive and gullible want to go on believing otherwise. You almost have to admire the gall of those who practise the deceit."
Michael Moore's Capitalism: a Love Story is a powerfully mischievous essay on that grand deceit, laying bare our, and particularly America's, 'romantic' attachment to a system that depends for its very survival on division rather than unity. Instead of a society built on common regard and mutual care, Moore shows how our own infatuation with capitalism keeps us locked into a lifelong 'relationship' of abusive dependency.

"Capitalism is evil", declares Moore, a conclusion echoed without qualification, or base class rhetoric, by his life-long priest friends in Moore's still-broken Flint hometown. It's a way of living, they and many others concur, totally at odds with any humanitarian principles of fairness, justice, compassion or love.

While the stealthy-wealthy of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street run the show on Capitol Hill and beyond - stealing countless, unrecoverable billions in the process - ordinary citizens live in perpetual fear of having their basic homes repossessed, of falling sick and of losing their burger joint jobs.

Moore tracks the chronic insecurity and ruthlessness that stalks America, from the airline pilot surviving on food stamps and another side-jobbing as a waitress, to the truly disgusting practice of major corporations like Wal Mart taking out secretive death insurance policies on their employees - referred to in the industry as "Dead Peasants" when they die and the corporations collect.

How have they managed to get away with all this, asks Moore? Where was the resistance to corporate-determined deregulation and community-breaking Reaganomics? Where, invoking FDR and his long-ignored Second Bill of Rights speech (1936), is the concern to enshrine that other set of constitutional liberties, basic economic security?

Delivered in Moore's quintessentially-grounded style, Capitalism is an acutely simple statement on the massive daily exercise in blanket propaganda that inhibits us from even noticing, never mind questioning, capitalism's irrational brutality. That's largely because we're taught, from birth, to aspire, compete and behave as zero-sum beings towards each other. Love has no meaningful place here.

Uncomfortably, Moore's film places a little too much respectful love - or, perhaps, lingering hope - in the Obama 'manifesto'. There's passing mention of corporate America's calculated bankrolling of the 'saviour' President, but the tougher question needs to be asked: where is our 'partnership' going here? Even Moore's 'critical love' can be a little too blind to select political darlings.

Yet, the film's essential message still comes clearly through: capitalism can't just be modified or tinkered with, it has to be "eliminated." Divorce, in other words, based on irreconcilable breakdown.

Fear hangs around all our lives: fear of being poor, of falling ill, of having to care for others, of losing those we love. Yet, it's our resilient capacity, in the face of economic and emotional adversity, to stay loving and caring that keeps us above that inhuman system. People are not commodities. Real love doesn't always depend on another's 'shelf-life' or market 'attraction'. We are not somehow predisposed to competition and acquisition at all costs.

Which may all still sound over-romantic. But, in the hopeful spirit of caring and sharing, here are some Time Tested Beauty Tips associated with Audrey Hepburn, an iconic actress who came from poverty to riches, yet never lost her capacity for compassion, kindness and loving thought:
For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone.
Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself and one for helping others.
Imagine an economic system built around those simple, loving principles.

During her later work for UNICEF, Hepburn said:
"I think perhaps with time, instead of there being a politicization of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanization of politics."
Nice thought. We're after the same rainbow's end ....

x John

Friday, 19 February 2010

Tom Harris: "stunt" and "frenzy" fears in apprehending war criminals

Further to our previous correspondence, my ongoing exchange with Tom Harris, MP.
9 February 2010

Dear Mr Hilley


Thank you for your reply to my letter regarding universal jurisdiction. I would like to make it clear that I support the principle of universal jurisdiction absolutely. However I do not support the use of universal jurisdiction as a political stunt. In England and Wales, arrest warrants can be obtained against those alleged to have committed war crimes and acts of torture either by a private individual presenting prima facie evidence to a magistrate or by the Metropolitan Police's Anti-Terrorist Branch in co-operation with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

In the case of the arrest warrant that was issued against Tzipi Livni, the warrant was issued by a magistrate based on prima facie evidence that, as Israel's foreign minister during Israel's operation in Gaza last winter, she may have committed war crimes. However, even if Tzipi Livni had visited the UK and had been arrested, any prosecution would only have been able to proceed if the CPS were able to persuade the Attorney General that the prosecution was likely to succeed and was in the public interest. This means that the magistrate route should pose little attraction to those wanting to see a prosecution and conviction. I think that it is highly likely that if Ms Livni had been arrested via the magistrate route, charges would not have been brought. The private individual who requested the arrest warrant from the magistrate would have also known this, which is presumably why he/she did not present evidence to the police. It leads me to believe that the whole thing was orchestrated not in the interests of justice, but for maximum publicity effect.

In Scotland, the magistrate route is not available. Magistrates here cannot consent to private requests for arrest warrants without a Criminal Letter from The High Court of the Justiciary, which is unlikely to be granted without the agreement of the Lord Advocate. Yet, the principle of universal jurisdiction still exists and is still important. It can be pursued via the CPS/police route and occurred in July 2005 when Afghan militia leader Faryadi Zardad was convicted of acts of torture and hostage taking.

The information allows me to draw a number of conclusions. Firstly, that arrest warrants issued by magistrates under universal jurisdiction have not, as yet, ever led to a successful prosecution. That, as in the case in Scotland, magistrate powers to issue arrest warrants under universal jurisdiction are not necessary for an individual to be prosecuted for war crimes or acts of torture. And finally, as the only ever successful prosecution under universal jurisdiction has succeeded via the CPS/police route, the issue of warrants by magistrates serves to act as nothing more than a political stunt orchestrated by a private individual to create a media and public frenzy.

It is quite possible that under existing rules, President Obama could be arrested during his next visit to the UK if an individual provided sufficient evidence about the regime in Guantanamo Bay to a magistrate. That would clearly be an absurd situation which would do irreparable damage to the UK's international reputation.

I trust this makes my position clear.

Best wishes

Tom Harris MP
Member of Parliament for Glasgow South


19 February 2010

Dear Mr Harris

Thanks for your reply of 9 February 2010.

Like your (and Ivan Lewis's) rejection of the Goldstone report, it's another revealing example of blatant pro-Israeli bias posing as practical objection.

Over 1400 people are slaughtered in Gaza, and your response is to castigate those seeking justice as mere organisers of a "political stunt".

Even if you disapproved of this particular arrest application, it didn't stop you signing Early Day Motion (EDM) 502 in general support of universal jurisdiction. It's not difficult to see the connection between that avoidance and your condemnation of the arrest warrant applicants in the Livni case.

Doesn't the very fact of the magistrate-granted warrant against Livni indicate that there is an actual case to answer? Recall that Livni was sufficiently worried about the magistrate-granted warrant to cancel her trip. It's odd that you, unlike her, should, thus, dismiss the warrant against her as a "political stunt."

The 'logic' of your position is that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)/police - Attorney General (AG) route is unlikely to be actioned (you omit, of course, to say why), therefore potential warrant applicants should just accept this and refrain from seeking warrants from magistrates. In other words, sit back and do nothing.

Arrest warrants via the magistrate route may be unlikely to succeed, at present, but that doesn't invalidate their authenticity. On the other hand, are we to believe that the CPS/AG route would prove any more fruitful, given the current leanings of the political-legal establishment?

If MPs like yourself were more-readily prepared to register and vocalise the case for universal jurisdiction, including, without favour, the indictment of people like Livni, then the CPS/AG avenue might become more politically and legally viable. By adding individual and collective weight to the call for Livni to be arrested, MPs and other prominent public servants might not only help bring a prima facie criminal to justice, but also help deter similar actions by other state villains, thus helping to preserve innocent life.

Your prevarications on the Livni case further undermine citizens' recourse to the law on such matters. Removing magistrates' discretionary powers and handing more powers to the Attorney General, as currently planned, will run contrary to every international provision behind universal jurisdiction.

Just to remind you: the UK has entered into binding obligations on these issues. As submitted in this parliamentary briefing:
"In the UK, we have legislated to give our courts jurisdiction to prosecute all suspected war criminals and torturers, even where neither the victim nor the suspect has any connection with Britain. This is because, in common with all state parties, we have entered into binding legal obligations commitments (i.e. in the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and Protocol I to those Conventions – which protect civilians and those outside combat - and in the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), where states effectively promised that there will be no safe haven for perpetrators in any country party to the instruments concerned. For example, Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, ratified by the UK half a century ago on 23 September 1957, expressly states that the UK is

“under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts.” "
Please see here a full statement on the case for non-exceptional application of universal jurisdiction and why MPs should support EDM 502 in defence of existing international provisions:

Amongst which, here's one very practical reason for victims' representatives seeking an arrest warrant from a magistrate, as they're entitled to do:
"An arrest warrant is an important legal tool used by lawyers acting on behalf of victims of crime in cases of urgency, to ensure that a suspect is apprehended who might otherwise escape from the jurisdiction. Without this power, victims fear that in most cases an effective legal process will never start, for the simple reasons that the suspect will flee abroad – this is obviously a far greater statistical risk in this type of offence than most other (i.e. non-international) offences.

Specifically, in cases of serious international crimes, it has been particularly important to prevent a suspect from escaping while the police and/or Crown Prosecution Service make a fully informed decision whether to devote resources to an investigation. The police are naturally reluctant at relatively short notice to arrest such suspects using their ordinary powers of arrest. But where victims can secure the suspect’s arrest, this ensures that time is available for the Crown Prosecution Service and/or the Attorney General to consider the matter carefully and decide whether they will take over and/or consent to the prosecution of the suspect."
Contrary to these safeguard provisions, your contrived reason for inaction is helping to promote criminal impunity and immunity. All this is well recognised by Israeli and other war crimes elites.

You further claim that the arrest application would only have served "to create a media and public frenzy." That's a facile conclusion, as if the granting of such a warrant would have the public, fuelled by the media (if only most editors and journalists had the courage to make such calls) making 'frenzied' calls for Livni's (and her cohorts') prosecution.

I don't recall any particular "frenzy" in the Pinochet case. As with Livni, Pinochet was calmly pursued by studious lawyers and supporters through the courts, while the Attorney General and 'frenzied' ministers ran around Whitehall and the courts doing all they could to protect him.

The case against Livni and her associates is now well recognised. It's documented in the Goldstone findings, in Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports and in multiple other public accounts of Israel's human rights violations.

It may seem "absurd" to you that state elites, including Obama, should be hauled up for their involvement in torture or murderous activities (such as the illegal bombing of villages along the Pakistan/Afghan border under Obama's watch). Such is your selective view of criminality. But what about the "irreparable damage to the UK's international reputation" caused by this government's desperate efforts to circumvent universal jurisdiction, a principle which you claim to support "absolutely"?

Your lame excuses over this case and others supportive of Israel is also now in the public domain. That makes you, like Ivan Lewis and other parliamentary apologists, openly complicit in the protection of such prima facie war criminals.

So, I ask again: will you sign EDM 502 and endorse the call for alleged Israeli war crimes elites to be prosecuted?

Likewise, I note that you continue to ignore my question regarding Ivan Lewis's Labour Friends of Israel affiliations and how that motivated his refusal to endorse the Goldstone report. As one of your constituents, will you make this enquiry?

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Universal jurisdiction: more evasions from Tom Harris and Ivan Lewis

A further exchange with my MP, Tom Harris, on universal jurisdiction. Previous exchange here.


3 February 2010

Dear Mr Hilley


Thank you for contacting me regarding your concerns about universal jurisdiction and asking me to sign Early Day Motion 502 Law and Human Rights.

Rather than sign the motion, I decided to seek ministerial advice on the matter. As such, I wrote to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and have now received a reply.

Please find enclosed a copy of the Minister's response. I would be interested to hear your views on this.

Best wishes

Tom Harris MP
Member of Parliament for Glasgow South

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

20 January 2010

Tom Harris Esq MP
House of Commons

Dear Tom

Thank you for your letter of 11 January to the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of your constituents, about Tzipi Livni and arrest warrants. I am replying as Minister responsible for our relations with the Middle East.

Israel is an important strategic partner for the UK across a number of foreign policy priorities. We need to maintain and develop ties with Israeli leaders as well as other key international partners. It is essential that Israeli leaders, and leaders from other countries, should be able to visit and have a proper dialogue with the UK government. The UK cannot hope to advance its principal goal of a just and lasting two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict if it cannot host discussions with and between leaders from key regional states. The cancelled visit of Mrs Livni had included a scheduled meeting with the Foreign Secretary.

We are looking currently at what options are available to us to address this issue. I can assure your constituents that any amendment to the current system will not undermine our commitment to ensuring those guilty of war crimes are held to account for their actions.

Ivan Lewis
Minister of State


6 February 2010

Dear Mr Harris

Thank you for your letter of 3 February 2010.

Your prevarications and evasions are becoming all too predictable. Either you support the case for universal jurisdiction, or you don't. If not, please just say so, rather than referring to Ivan Lewis and the Foreign Office which has sought to bend, ignore and undermine every legal and judicial rule in the book to protect Tzipi Livni and other prima facie Israeli war criminals.

The parliamentary motion in support of universal jurisdiction - as advocated in the Goldstone report - applies to any person reasonably suspected of committing war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. There should be no practical or ethical reason for failing to support it. Or do you believe that the free movement of elites involved in mass murder is more important than justice for the victims of those actions?

If UK government ministers wish to speak with their Israeli counterparts, they can always travel to Israel - knowing that they'll be safe in that territory from indictment over their own criminal conduct in Iraq.

But we know, of course, that this is about much more than the convenience of diplomatic dialogue. It's about this government's priority treatment of Israel and panicked efforts to block due legal process. Labour Friends of Israel, indeed.

It's also notable that you had no such reticence in signing a petition recently in support of Tony Blair It's darkly ironic that he is now technically at risk of arrest in countries signed up to universal jurisdiction, while you refuse to sign a motion calling for similar indictment of war criminals in this country.

I note also that you continue to evade my question regarding Ivan Lewis's membership of LFoI and its relevance to his dismissal of Goldstone.

As ever, all this is duly noted. I hope your constituents pay appropriate attention come the election.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley