Photo of anti-war protest in St PetersburgPeters

The war in Ukraine grows more dangerous every day. The US Congress is close to approving a massive new arms and aid package for Ukraine. UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says “the war in Ukraine is our war” and “we will keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine.” US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has said he wants to see Russia “weakened.”

These statements create the impression that the US and its allies intend to use the war to catalyse the collapse of the Russian state. If Russian leaders believe that to be the case they will think it worth running almost any risk to try to strengthen their position.

Western statements appear to be calculated to squeeze Russia between a rock and a hard place and block any prospect of negotiation. Continue reading “Stopping the War in Ukraine – Five Demands” »

Tony Blair and Vladimir PutinThere are few things that friends of the establishment dislike more than the kind of contextualisation they call “whataboutism”. When Washington says “Ukraine”, we mustn’t say “Iraq.” They are right, in a way. Trying to keep a score card of war crimes and human rights abuses by the world’s great powers would certainly be a futile task if the aim was to pick demons and saviours.

But that isn’t the point. The purpose of context and history is to create a picture of how international law actually works in the hope of understanding what consequences might follow from particular actions. You would be unwise to jump to conclusions about an alleged breach of domestic law without looking not only at the evidence, but also at police actions and case law and perhaps also the sociology of comparable incidents. You would be even more unwise to approach international law in ignorance of its case history. There is no international police force and no single straightforward court system comparable with domestic court systems. The concept of customary international law – the accumulation of unchallenged actions by states – has no real parallel in domestic law. War crimes prosecutions always involve politics in a much more explicit way than domestic prosecutions. You cannot talk about international law without talking about history.

So what about Afghanistan and Iraq? Continue reading “What About International Law?” »

French nuclear test, Moruroa Atoll 1970

From stopping a war to starting one in 7 lines. We are about half-way through line 6  at the moment.

Stop the war in Ukraine.
Stop Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Sanction Russia to stop Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Send arms to stop Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Ukrainians are defending Europe, Europe must defend Ukraine.
Send food, send missiles, send planes, send troops, send tanks.
War! War! Death! Death! Continue reading “The Road to Armageddon” »

Picasso's Guernica on a tiled wall

Originally written on 24 February 2022, the day Russia launched a full-scale invasion if Ukraine.

War is monstrous. And it creates further monstrosities that are hard to un-make. Those who were previously banging drums that could only lead to war seem to think that the monstrousness is news and somehow vindicates their previous warmongering.

No one who brought the current incarnation of the monster into being can escape responsibility. The circumstances that bred it were largely created by the US, through its commitment to potentially endless NATO expansion and its apparent ambition of holding something much more than the balance of power in the Eurasian landmass. And then the final responsibility for unleashing the dogs of war was Putin’s. There are no excuses for either side. Continue reading “Monsters” »

This blog has been offline since October 2021. It went back online yesterday, 12 March 2022. It’s great to see it online again. I feel as though I’m welcoming back into the world an old and valued friend who has been lying in a coma in hospital, and who I have been disgracefully neglecting.

The blog may be a bit wobbly on its feet for a bit, so please be patient if you come across anything that looks a bit dishevelled or doesn’t quite work properly. I’ll try to fix any problems as they emerge, and perhaps also to make some improvements. And I’ll try to post more often. I’ll begin by posting some short things I’ve written over the last couple of weeks since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Feel free to contribute via the comments. To do so you’ll need to register an account (which will be approved manually, so please be patient) or login using your facebook or twitter account. However you log in, your first comments will need to be approved manually, so again please be patient. I hope this doesn’t sound tedious. It has to be better than facebook, doesn’t it?

If commenting, just bear in mind what I’ve said before:

“If you are socialism-averse, or you are thrilled by the sight of military parades, or you worry that Europe is being Islamified, or you fear that your town is about to be swamped by immigrants, or you are fond of locking people up and throwing away the key, or you think Britain’s security services are doing a great job, you probably won’t like this blog. You’d be much happier somewhere else.”

You’ll also be unhappy here if you’re thrilled by the prospect of war with Russia, or if you think it’s a duty that we mustn’t shirk.

Comments along any of those lines are unlikely to be treated kindly. But if that’s not you, you’re welcome.

Dr Issam Hijjawi Bassalat was released on bail on Monday 13 December 2021 and is back home in Edinburgh.

He was granted bail by the High Court in Belfast on 9 December, having previously been refused bail in Dungannon Magistrates Court. District Judge Michael Ranaghan had ruled that the heart attack that Issam had suffered in prison did not amount to a change in his circumstances

On 14 December Issam was acquitted in Edinburgh Sheriff Court of a separate charge under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 relating to a stop-and-question incident at Edinburgh airport in early 2020. He was represented in court by Ryan Sloan of Aamer Anwar & Co Solicitors.

Issam was arrested in August 2020 in an MI5 sting said to have been directed against the New IRA. He was held on remand in Maghaberry Prison until his release in December 2021.

He continues to fight against the charges brought against him in Northern Ireland. A commital hearing for Issam and his nine co-defendants is expected to be held later this year.

Issam would like to thank everyone around the world who has helped him to reach this point, whether by writing supportive letters to the court, standing surety, or by helping to spread word about his case. International support has been particularly valuable and will continue to be crucial as the legal fight-back continues.


Tony Blair and Bill Clinton mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement

An MI5 sting directed at the New IRA is raising some tricky questions. The big questions are “why now?” and “what about Lyra McKee?” And “what has a Palestinian doctor from Edinburgh got to do with all this?”

Ten people were arrested in August in an operation said by police to be directed against the New IRA. Nine of them were members of the revolutionary Irish republican party Saoradh. One of them was a Palestinian doctor from Edinburgh, arrested at Heathrow airport and then taken to Belfast to be charged under terrorism legislation. His name is Issam Hijjawi Bassalat. His arrest triggered a little flurry of media speculation about supposed links between republican terrorism and Middle Eastern terrorism, helped along by the usual nameless security sources.

The operation has a name, as they do in the movies. It’s called Arbacia. Arbacia is a type of sea urchin that looks rather like the spiny-rayed sun that appears in the Saoradh logo. The police evidently want Saoradh to know that they are targeting it. At a press conference on 24 August Chief Constable Barbara Gray said: “This investigation did not start last week and it will not end this week.” She added: “It is a longer term investigation that will look into every aspect of the activities of the New IRA in its entirety.”

In fact there have been no further arrests. Gossip from a “security source” reported in the Guardian on 12 October carries a hint of finality that was absent from earlier reports. So what has been going on? Continue reading “MI5’s Irish Charade” »

Package of covid tests

On 10 March Scotland’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Gregor Smith, published a statement setting out the way that contact tracing was being used to counter the spread of coronavirus. He described contact tracing as “a fundamental part of outbreak control, used by public health professionals around the world.”

But at the First Minister’s press conference on 2 April, Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood said: “the thought that the testing in some way slows the virus or is a part of our strategy to prevent transmission is a fallacy.”

What happened between these two statements? I sent the Scottish Government a freedom of information (FOI) request to try to find some of the answers. What I found was shocking. Continue reading “Test, Trace, Obfuscate” »

Sheku Bayoh

On 21 March the Scottish Government announced the terms of reference for the public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Sheku Bayoh. It remains to be seen whether Sheku Bayoh’s family will finally obtain justice.

Bayoh died in Kirkcaldy on 3 May 2015 after being restrained by police using CS spray, pepper spray and batons. The Lord Advocate announced in 2018 that no police officers were to be prosecuted and re-affirmed this decision on 11 November 2019, after the Crown Office had completed a review of its own earlier decision. The following day, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf announced in the Scottish Parliament that a public inquiry would be set up. He announced in January that the inquiry would be headed by retired judge Lord Bracadale.

The public inquiry is being set up under the Inquiries Act 2005. It will cover the matters that would have been covered by a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI), plus some matters that are beyond the remit of an FAI. An FAI is mandatory for all deaths in police custody, but the requirement may be waived if the Lord Advocate considers that the circumstances of death have been sufficiently established by other proceedings, such as criminal proceedings or a public inquiry. Continue reading “Justice at Last?” »