Mehdi Hasan on Question Time, Israel and 9/11

An astonishing claim -- even by his standards -- from Richard Perle.

Last night's Question Time special on the aftermath of 9/11 featured the "Prince of Darkness", Richard Perle, ex-chairman of George W Bush's defence policy board and US neocon-in-chief.

Most of his remarks had me groaning but one, in particular, caught my attention. Israel, Perle claimed, wasn't in violation of international law. He said:

Find me the Security Council resolution that Israel has violated.

His astonishing, ahistorical claim was met by silence from host David Dimbleby, as well as his fellow panellists -- including the anti-war lefties Tariq Ali and Bonnie Greer.

Perle repeated the line a few seconds later:

Israel is not in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. It just isn't.

Er, yes it is -- and it was left to an audience member to mention UN Resolution 242, while the former foreign secretary David Miliband just mumbled something about settlements being "illegal under international law".

However, apologists for Israel's occupation often argue that the meaning of 242 is contested; that there is a dispute over the meaning and extent of "territories occupied".

Yet, according to Professor Stephen Zunes, even excluding 242, the state of Israel violated 32 security council resolutions between 1968 and 2002 -- a record for any UN member!

To take just one live example, how about UN Resolution 452, passed in 1979? It states

. . . the policy of Israel in establishing settlements in the occupied Arab territories has no legal validity and constitutes a violation of the fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war of 12 August 1949

and

. . . calls upon the government and people of Israel to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem.

Guess what? It still stands. And Perle knows it still stands. And he knows that Israel is still building settlements in defiance of it.

As for the link between Israeli crimes against the Palestinians and the al-Qaeda attacks on the twin towers, here's Robert Fisk's take:

But I'm drawn to Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan whose The Eleventh Day confronts what the west refused to face in the years that followed 9/11. "All the evidence . . . indicates that Palestine was the factor that united the conspirators -- at every level," they write. One of the organisers of the attack believed it would make Americans concentrate on "the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel". Palestine, the authors state, "was certainly the principal political grievance . . . driving the young Arabs (who had lived) in Hamburg".

The motivation for the attacks was "ducked" even by the official 9/11 report, say the authors. The commissioners had disagreed on this "issue" -- cliché code word for "problem" -- and its two most senior officials, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, were later to explain: "This was sensitive ground . . . Commissioners who argued that al-Qaeda was motivated by a religious ideology -- and not by opposition to American policies -- rejected mentioning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . . . In their view, listing US support for Israel as a root cause of al-Qaeda's opposition to the United States indicated that the United States should reassess that policy." And there you have it.

So what happened? The commissioners, Summers and Swan state, "settled on vague language that circumvented the issue of motive". There's a hint in the official report -- but only in a footnote which, of course, few read. In other words, we still haven't told the truth about the crime which -- we are supposed to believe -- "changed the world for ever". Mind you, after watching Obama on his knees before Netanyahu last May, I'm really not surprised.


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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Q&A: Why the UN’s Julian Assange ruling is meaningless

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has no legal force in the UK.

Why is Julian Assange even in the Ecuadorean embassy?

In June 2012, the Wikileaks founder fled bail, walked into the embassy, and applied for political asylum to the Ecuadorean government. And he’s stayed there ever since.

Assange was on bail because the UK was trying to extradite him to Sweden, where authorities want to question him in relation to an allegation of rape. Investigations into two counts of sexual molestation and one count of unlawful coercion were dropped in August 2015 after they reached their statute of limitations – that is, the window for the Swedish authorities to bring the case expired. The statute of limitations for the rape investigation expires in 2020.

A European Arrest Warrant is in force for Assange, so the UK has an obligation to extradite him to Sweden. Which, if he had set foot outside the Ecuadorean embassy since 2012, is what the government would have done.

The UK cannot enter the embassy to arrest Assange under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

What is the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention?

First, let's be clear about what the Working Group is not. It is not a court. It has no legal jurisdiction in the UK.

It is exactly what it says it is: a working group. If that’s too opaque, think of it as a bit like a think tank. A think tank set up by the UN that only considers alleged cases of arbitrary detention.

The panel has five members, all academic lawyers. One of them, Leigh Toomey, recused herself from this case because, like Assange, she is an Australian citizen. The four remaining lawyers who decided this case (all men) are from South Korea, Ukraine, Benin and Mexico.

The group reports to, and is mandated by, the United Nations Human Rights Council, which counts members from notable human rights-respecting countries China, Qatar and Russia among its governing Commission. And in September last year the UNHRC attracted criticism for appointing Faisal bin Hassan Trad, an official from Saudi Arabia, to chair an influential panel of independent experts. Yes, the same Saudi Arabia that sentenced the free speech blogger Raif Badawi to be flogged. 

It’s probably also worth noting that between 2009 and 2014 the Working Group ruled in favour of the detainee in all but four of the 1,325 claims it heard.

What did the Working Group say?

That Assange had been subjected to more than one “deprivation of liberty”: not only his present confinement in the Ecuadorean embassy, but also when he was initially detained in Wandsworth prison and was subsequently under house arrest in the early stages of his legal battle against extradition.

The opinion also argued that Assange’s detention was “arbitrary” because he had been held in isolation at Wandsworth, and because of “the lack of diligence by the Swedish prosecutor in its investigations”.

The panel concluded that Assange’s apparent detention "should be brought to an end, that his physical integrity and freedom of movement be respected", and that he “should be afforded the right to compensation”.

Was this a unanimous ruling?

No. The Ukranian panellist, Vladimir Tochilovsky, disagreed. He pointed out that “fugitives are often self-confined within the places where they evade arrest and detention”, and argued that this case lies outside the mandate of the Working Group.

What happens now?

Nothing. The government still stands ready to arrest and extradite Assange if he leaves the embassy, although the continuous police guard outside the building ended in October.

A government spokesperson today rejected the idea that Assange has ever been arbitrarily detained, and said instead that he is “voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy”.

Has this got anything to do with Wikileaks?

No. It’s about a man fleeing questioning on suspicion of rape.