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Re: Put Foreign Office on trial

In response to Alan Bates' unnecessarily vitriolic attack on the protest at the Foreign Office against bombing and sanctions, I'm going to take the liberty (as one of the defendants) of making a detailed response. 
1.  'I am sure that there are many people who do not feel that sanctions against Iraq are the most effective way of undermining SH's attacks on his own people'
I'm a bit worried if that's Alan Bates reason for opposing sanctions - that there are more effective ways of undermining the Iraqi regime.  Most people's concern is for the ordinary people of Iraq who are suffering horrendously under the sanctions (I've been there and have seen it for myself)
2. 'Is it not time that CASI has a clear policy on the campaigning tactics and methods which we choose to support?' 
My understanding is that this is an information list and doesn't imply any particular stance on CASI's part.  I would hope that anyone reading mailings from the list would be intelligent enough to make up their own mind about it, and not need anyone else to tell them what to think.
3.  'I object to people causing disgraceful acts of vandalism to buildings which are at the heart of the democracy in which we live'. 
I'm sorry that Alan Bates is so concerned about some very minor damage to a wall.  It might be more productive if he could save his concern for the massive damage we're doing to the people of Iraq through bombing and sanctions. It's touching that he has so much faith in our democracy - could this be the same democracy I'm familiar with, which is contributing to the death of 4000 children a month in Iraq?  Could it be the same one which is allowing the sale of weapons to the genocidal Indonesian regime?  To the massively undemocratic Saudi Arabian regime?  Which supported the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan?  Whose police officers seem to see it as their duty to harass, unlawfully arrest and even kill members of ethnic minorities?  Perhaps Alan Bates is living in a different country to the rest of us - if so, maybe he'd like to tell us where it is so we can all join him in this utopia.
4.  'Injustice makes us angry but should it really stop us participating in the democratic process through lawful means?'
Firstly, we haven't yet been found guilty of doing anything unlawful (I'm surprised a law student isn't aware of the concept of innocent until proven guilty).  Secondly, I have been participating in the 'democratic process' (although I don't find it very democratic) over this issue by lawful means since before the Gulf War.  Together with many others, I have spent almost every Monday evening for over seven and a half years standing in vigil outside the Foreign Office to call for the lifting of sanctions.  I have written to my MP more times than I could count, written dozens of letters to the Foreign Office (which are now routinely ignored - they say they've got nothing more to say to me), met with people at the Iraq desk in the FCO (during which time we were patronised and belittled by several civil servants who clearly knew nothing whatsoever about the issue), signed petitions, been on endless marches and demonstrations, given out thousands of leaflets, travelled to Iraq, given many talks about the situation, and encouraged others to do all these things too - in short, done everything within my power to try and get these abhorrent sanctions lifted.  Thousands of others have done likewise.  Which democratic methods would Alan Bates suggest we use next?
    Further, the talk about lawful means would ring a little less hollow if our government would stop breaking the law.  It's quite clear that the airstrikes were illegal (there was no UN authorisation for the use of force), and that the sanctions are a massive violation of human rights and international law (for instance, they're very clearly a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a binding agreement signed by the British government in 1990).  Is the suggestion that our supposed lawbreaking (causing a little damage to a wall) is more morally objectionable than that of our government (which has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians over the past eight years)?
5.  'It is nonsense to say that the individuals concerned risk six months in prison'
That's the maximum sentence, so obviously that is the risk, however unlikely.  Alan Bates obviously has little experience of sentences meted out to activists; I've been given two months for a much more minor offence.
6.  'Doubtless those who are on trial will tell us that it is their rights which are being violated and it is they who are being oppressed'
I wouldn't consider telling people anything of the sort.  To do so would be grossly offensive to the people at the heart of this issue - the people of Iraq, whose rights are being violated and who are undoubtedly being oppressed.  To compare our situation to theirs would be obscene.
7.  'People who vandalise public property may have their heart in the right place but should we really be going to court to cheer them on as heroes for committing a crime against our democracy?'
Oh dear - and there I was hoping that people would want to come to court to show their support for the lifting of sanctions and an end to military attacks on Iraq, and instead I'm going to have to put up with being cheered on as a hero(ine).  This suggestion, that we took this action to massage our own egos and want people to come and fete us for our action is as offensive as the previous one. 
8.  'Unlike the plowshares [sic] case, this is not a prevention of a crime against international law....the judge cannot but do his duty and convict these people'.
See comments above re violations of international law.  As one of the defendants in that case too, I can only say that I'm glad that we didn't have a judge who took the same line as Alan Bates - ie that we were guilty before the trial even began.  In the ploughshares trial, we were convicted by the media before we went to court, who assumed that because we'd done the damage to the plane, we were obviously guilty.  They were pretty surprised when we were acquitted.  It's usually best not to make your mind up until you've heard the facts.    (By the way, I'm surprised that a law student doesn't know that cases are heard by magistrates, not judges, in magistrates' courts).
9.  In response to something in Alan Bates' email to Ben Zachariah - '..the primary one at fault for all the problems of the Iraqi people is not the British government.  Our airstrikes have killed a small number of people.'
Calling the massive humanitarian crisis in Iraq, with all its attendant death and destruction, 'problems' is pretty offensive - it makes it sound as if the Iraqis are having to pay a bit more for their groceries as a result of sanctions.  You really can't blame the 4,000 child deaths a month on the Iraqi government, who are doing all they can to equitably distribute the pitiful amount of food they're allowed to buy (and run a very efficient operation, according to Dennis Halliday, with no evidence of diversion).  It cannot be denied that before the advent of sanctions, Iraq had one of the best health care systems in the Middle East, and children simply did not die of starvation.  The British government, in supporting sanctions, bears direct responsibility for the humanitarian crisis.  To say that our airstrikes have killed only a small number of people is pretty disingenuous - yes, the airstrikes in December (and the ones almost every day since) did not kill that many people (although the Pentagon estimated there would be 10,000 civilian deaths in prolonged strikes - let's call it war- which may well yet happen).  But what about the hundreds of thousands killed by our bombs during the Gulf War?  And the hundreds of thousands killed by sanctions?  Those deaths are our responsibility too.
Finally, I would like to invite Alan Bates to come to court on Monday - not to cheer us on as hero(ine)s but to add his voice to the call for the lifting of sanctions and cessation of bombing.  Whether or not he agrees with our methods (and this is a democracy, we're told - he's quite at liberty to disagree) I would hope that he supports the right to life for the people of Iraq.
Andrea Needham

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