Open Letter to Ann Clwyd MP, from Dr Jem Bendell, October 25th 2010.
My name is Jem Bendell and we met in 1996 during the time when a couple of my friends were among the British hostages being held in West Papua and you offered to help. You kindly worked to get a letter written to the OPM rebel leaders from Klaus Hensch, then President of the European Parliament. The letter seems to have played a role in helping organise a release, although the release failed when the OPM leader Kelly Kwalik changed his mind during his speech. You may recall the British hostages got out, as they fled, later, when the kidnappers starting killing the Indonesian hostages, two of whom died. Thank you for your efforts back then. I remember you from then as a principled MP.
I was always surprised and disappointed at your stance on the invasion of Iraq. I was working as a consultant at the UN in 2003. I organised the writing and UN staff signing of a letter sent to all non permanent members of the UN Security Council to remind them of the principles of the UN Charter. We were concerned the UN might endorse an invasion, as that would have set a new precedent in international law, suggesting that a state with power and prejudice could launch an attack because it felt threatened. In the letter we simply reminded them of the UN Charter, which international civil servants at the UN are meant to uphold, rather than focusing on specific issues they were deliberating. The UN hierarchy did not like our efforts – security paid us a visit. Fortunately a few brave non permanent Security Council members did not cave in to the bribes and phone taps, and the resolution to authorise an invasion was not passed. This meant that PM Blair could no longer say the UN would back the coalition forces as implementing the will of the ‘international community’. It might also help in him being prosecuted as a war criminal one day, and thus serving as a warning to Western leaders in future. However, it did not stop the war, which appeared inevitable to everyone, including the millions of protestors who did not believe it when politicians said war was not inevitable. Never has there been a bigger display of the general public believing their leaders to be liars than that anti war march before the invasion.
There were few moral voices in favour of the War. You stood up and called for war to end torture. “See men shredded, then say you don’t back war” read the headline of your article in the Sunday Times, calling for an invasion. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/thunderer/article1120757.ece
I was wondering whether over the years you have rethought your views on how one deals with oppressive regimes and dictators. The latest leaks show that terrible abuses have been widespread since the invasion. For instance see the Guardian stories showing the level of abuse, and the official policy of the US Army to ignore it. This is aside from more than 60000 civilian deaths, documented by the US Army in the leaked information. In 2003 you talked of men being shredded by Saddam Hussein being a justification for war. So many more people have been shredded by bullets since, as well as tortured, due to the war. The depravity of killers is not the primary issue that should influence our judgement, rather the extent of the human rights abuses, the extent of the killings, and what responses will work, not make things worse. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/22/iraq-detainee-abuse-torture-saddam)
This level of violence was predicted by the anti War movement in 2003, whose analysts said it would be a long fight, with sectarian violence, and the likelihood of invading forces reestablishing a despotic government or militia in order to keep some control. They also said it would stoke hatred and trigger terrorism against the West. It appears the anti War movement had the smartest military intelligence; or perhaps they were simply not being willfully ignorant due to political and professional pressure in 2003?
When faced with evidence of human rights abuses in Iraq, you told the Chilcot inquiry earlier this year that “it is disappointing but understandable” and explained that it takes time after wars to achieve security. You didn’t express such patience about dealing with torture and death under Saddam Hussein. You told the inquiry you have made representations to the Iraqi government to uphold human rights as “one of the main reasons for going in there, to get rid of the kind of tyranny and cruelty that was going on in that country. I don’t want to see it perpetuated.” It appears from recent leaked documents from Wikileaks that you had little impact in that regard.
Some make statements such as “it was right to get rid of Saddam”, which is meaningless as it could justify any level of destruction in pursuit of that aim (would we nuke a whole country to get rid of one man? No, and so in isolation it is a nonsensical justification). Some make statements such as “its important to focus on the future” as if the future wont include other situations where we face dictators, human rights abuses, and opportunistic politicians seeking to take countries to war, and so we need to learn our lessons.
Do you now see that to deal with dictators and despotic regimes you need effective sanctions that take away the ability of a regime’s elite members of society to move or bank abroad? That those and only those sanctions are the ones that work, and we need more progress to ensure all governments, including offshore financial centres, participate in such sanctions in future, and where there are tough trade sanctions against countries who do not participate in such efforts against dictators? And that, conversely, we need to engage more with the people living under dictatorships, giving them visas for tourism, study, business etc, and funding them to study abroad, etc, as part of the process of creating a lasting change?
Ann, you said that war was right to stop torture. Now you know the amount of torture and death it has caused, what have you learned?
A lot of people died in a War that you helped to justify. You have been largely quiet in public about revelations about abuses in Iraq since the invasion. It would be a good time to say something new.
I will post this letter to my blog, and will post your reply if you permit. (http://www.jembendell.com)
Dr. Jem Bendell