An Indiscriminate And Reckless Attack: Curiously, the British Prime Minister, Teresa May, does not appear to regard the “indiscriminate and reckless” attacks made against “innocent civilians” living on the soil of other United Nations member-states as being worthy of the unequivocal condemnation contained in her statement to the House of Commons on 12 March 2018. Only when the alleged attacker is the Russian Federation does the UK start screaming blue, bloody murder.
“I AM STRONGLY in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.” So said Great Britain’s Secretary of War, Winston Churchill, in 1920 – and he was as good as his word. That same year, Aylmer Haldane, the commander of British forces in Iraq bombarded the villages of rebellious “uncivilised tribes” with gas-filled shells. The British estimated Arab casualties at 8,450 killed and wounded. The action was deemed a resounding success. The use of chemical weapons had engendered, in Churchill’s telling phrase, “a lively terror”.
It still does.
Much of Southern Iraq remains contaminated with the residue of the depleted uranium shells used by American armoured columns against the Russian-made tanks of the Iraqi army in the Gulf War of 1991. During the first and second battles for the Iraqi city of Fallujah, in 2004, the use of white phosphorus explosives (first developed for anti-personnel purposes in World War I) inflicted hideous burns on hundreds of the city’s inhabitants – civilian as well as insurgent.
The United States and British-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, undertaken in defiance of the United Nation’s Charter and without the authorisation of the UN Security Council was, in the near-unanimous opinion of jurists around the world, an egregious breach of international law.
To date, no nation state, or collection of nation states, has imposed diplomatic or economic sanctions on the United States or the United Kingdom. The individuals responsible for planning and executing the illegal invasion of Iraq are free to travel and conduct business wherever they choose.
The suspected use of an illegal chemical weapon by the Russian Federation has provoked near-universal condemnation. Rightly so, because the deployment of a deadly nerve agent in the picturesque medieval city of Salisbury was an extraordinarily reckless act. The sheer lethality of the substance has inflicted critical injury not only upon the target of the assassination attempt, the Russian double-agent, Sergei Skripal, but also upon his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, and the local police officer who rushed to their aid. Anyone or anything coming into contact with the Skripals is now being treated as a potential bio-hazard.
The British Prime Minister, Teresa May, has condemned the attack in the most unequivocal fashion. In her 12 March statement to the House of Commons, she unhesitatingly identified the Russian Federation as the source of the nerve agent used in the Salisbury incident. Her concluding remarks made the UK’s position very clear:
“Mr Speaker, this attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.”
Curiously, Prime Minister May does not appear to regard the “indiscriminate and reckless” attacks made against “innocent civilians” living on the soil of other United Nations member-states as being worthy of an equally forthright parliamentary statement.
Since 2001, armed Predator drones piloted by United States armed forces personnel have patrolled the skies above Africa and the Middle East. Their mission: to track the precise location of individuals and groups whose very existence has been deemed inimical, by the CIA and other intelligence gatherers, to the national security of the United States.
When the location of these “targets” had been pinpointed, the US launched one, or both, of the Hellfire missiles carried under the Predator’s wings. Sometimes these missiles achieved a “clean kill” – “neutralising” only their targets. On other occasions, however, these US drone strikes inflicted “collateral damage” – killing or maiming the “innocent civilians” living inside the blast zone.
It is passing strange, is it not, that the global news media has, to date, seen no need to whip itself into a lather of fury over the fate of these casualties of state-sponsored terrorism? Especially when the death-toll from this US policy, which operates well outside of any reasonable reading of international law – or justice – now numbers in the thousands.
Then again, we are only dealing here with members of those “uncivilised tribes”: human-beings for whom the protection of the law was deemed, as long ago as 1920, and by no lesser authority that Winston Churchill, to be unwarranted.
When set against these current and historical facts, the propensity of Vladimir Putin to engage in “indiscriminate and reckless” acts is suddenly rendered grimly intelligible.
If the West’s use of poison gas, depleted uranium, white phosphorus and Hellfire missiles elicits no outrage in the House of Commons; and if the “international community” is not moved to impose diplomatic and/or economic sanctions against those responsible; then perhaps the only reasonable lesson to be drawn is that “international outrage” has now become just one more “lively terror” to be unleashed upon the “uncivilised tribes” of Planet Earth.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 20 March 2018.