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Question/Comment
22 December: 
its not a good idea releasing names of the other 2 marines. puts them and the families in danger. they were aquitted so why should they be named. typical of civvy courts not getting the danger of operational life.    pete 
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21 December: 
To bring everyone up to date, the courts authorised that the other 2 marines B and C should be named. It was reported in the Independent on Thursday.   Thinners 
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Thank you, Thinners. I have put in the link.     Aspals 
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17 December: 
Soldiers don't need a union. The lot Goldie talks about sound like real cry babies. Get over it. It wasn't combat it was a training march. The judge got it just about right saying they were a disgrace. The officers were idiots too. Donkeys led by donkeys.The sentence was harsh but they were sentenced by a military board who assessed the stupidity of what they did and felt it was the right punishment.   Pongo 
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13 December: 
on what goldie said whats new about officers being tossers. you cant mutibny every time some idiot is put in charge of men. as for men who seen action then they should of known better.    pete 
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12 December: 
I have read with some shock the following article, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2520937/Soldiers-stage-mutiny.html
The 15 soldiers received a range of sentences from dismissal to military detention from 40-60 days. The soldiers concerned were not happy with the officer and sgt in charge of them. Ok, it was a public display of disobedience, but really dismissal and 60 days for an experienced soldier who has seen active service a number of times.
How could they complain about their concerns, to the very chain of command that they have an issue with. There is no union and the complaints system, as we know is not fit for purpose. Discuss....    Goldie 
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What do you think Goldie?     Aspals 
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11 December: 
I hope Alex Blackman gets off on appeal. If the sentence is fixed for murder then the law needs to be changed to take into consideration cases where people carry weapons as part of their job and in the case of soldiers in combat use them to kill people on a daily basis. That's quite different to the mugger on the street who uses an illegal gun and whose purpose from the outset is to use it to commit a crime or even murder.    Pongo 
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11 December: 
Anthony's summary is right on point. I happen to agree that the sentencing remarks were measured and just. I think the defendant was treated leniently and deservedly so.    Roger 
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11 December: 
The reduction in the tariff in the case of Blackman entirely proves my point about clubbiness of the military system and why it has to go. Anyway, with soldiers all being home based in the UK what is the point of a separate system for anything other than discipline cases. Criminal cases should be tried by the normal criminal courts.    Tess 
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10 December:  Just to take up a point raised by Tess, I was not saying there was any "clubbiness" of the military system. Rather, I was saying that was the sort of view that Tess had of the system - something I disagree with. I think the sentence was fair.   Anthony   Aspals Consultancy
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10 December: 
If the sergeant appeals or not is up to him but so should the attorney general. He should seek a review of the sentence as being unduly lenient. To drop from a 30 year recommended starting point to 10 years, was not justified on the basis of the mitigation the judge revealed in the sentencing remarks. As Anthony said, I think this smacks of the clubbiness of the military system. As for his remark about the "hotch potch random mix of jurors", well that's how normal citizens are tried. There's no special dispensation from members of the club looking to protect the reputation of the club at a time when everyone, including the European Court of human rights, is critical of the behaviour of our troops. The message is clear if you are a soldier you can get special treatment because your profession is to kill. Sounds silly doesn't it.    Tess 
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10 December: 
the marine sargant is appealing conviction and sentence. lets hope for proper justice.    pete 
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10 December:  The criticisms of the sentence of Sgt Blackman are understood. However, the sentencing court also understood the issues. The sentencing remarks are well worth reading. JAG said, "Of course sitting in a court room in middle England is a far cry from the brutality of the conflict in Afghanistan, but you have been judged here by a Board made up of Service personnel who understand operational service because they too have experienced it. That is one of the strengths of the Court Martial system."
This is a very important point. The board members understood the environment. The court members were not some hotch potch random mix of jurors, from varying social backgrounds, with varying intellect and diverse political baggage. There were no anti-military "chips" on their shoulders. They were well educated, disciplined officers with experience of commanding men and women. If anything - to take Tess' oft made criticism - they were better disposed to the defendant than a civilian court.
The JAG made the point that a 30 years tariff is the normal starting point for a murder by firearm. The court rightly found that there were exceptional reasons for departing from this guidance and adopted a 15 year starting point. They rejected the prosecution assertion that the carrying of a firearm was an aggravating factor, as he was lawfully entitled to carry a weapon. What he was not authorised to do was use the weapon unlawfully. Killing a severely injured combatant was such a case.
Interestingly, the court did take into account the cumulative effect of the defendant's experiences, the provocation and stresses brought about by the horrors of war he had been exposed to. This is very important to appreciate, as it is assumed by some commentators that that was not the case. They also took account of his record of good service and the recent death of his father. It was by this means that the court reduced the minimum tariff to 10 years - a huge reduction from the 30 year norm.
It was a measured judgment which showed mercy to the defendant and took properly into account the various strong mitigating factors advanced on his behalf. As much as I respect the difficult work undertaken by our service personnel, I cannot share the criticisms of the court's sentence.   Anthony   Aspals Consultancy
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10 December: 
Its easy for people to criticise Sgt Blackman. Sure he did wrong but you have to know what its like to face the sort of pressures he did in order to understand why he did what he did and why even knowing he was doing wrong he thought it was right. Pete put it well. Walk a mile in Sgt Blackman's shoes.    Pongo 
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7 December: 
hes a soldier doing a difficult job which penpushers will never understand. dont judge him til you walk a mile in his shoes. i salute the guy. there should be a special pardon for him.    pete 
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6 December: 
I agree with Roger that the usual tariff in cases like this is nearer the 30 years mark. This defendant was treated very leniently. I think it was too leniently.. He was not a rookie soldier. He was a leader of men and he was the one that made the decision to kill in cold blood.    Tess 
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There is a very good blog by a barrister named Matthew Scott on the sentencing in this case entitled, "Sergeant Blackman's case shows how much we need courts martial". It is well worth a read - as are the sentencing remarks of the JAG. (Thanks to AMCA for tweeting this info)     Aspals 
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6 December: 
The sympathy being extended to Sergeant Blackman is understandable, but it is, as tariffs go, a very low one for a conviction for murder by using a firearm. Murder is an offence where the sentence is fixed by law. That sentence is life. So as a defendant you know what an adverse outcome holds for you. murder with a firearm usually has a 30 year tariff as the starting point. In the Sgt's case, he killed his helpless victim by shooting him to death after making a statement of his intent to kill. All the same, as the guidance states it is always permissible not to apply the guidance if a judge considers there are reasons for not following it. From what I understand, his defence was one of denial, which rather limited the options of his counsel. In the end the court did take the extenuating circumstances into account when it passed the sentence it did. His sentence is actually very fair. Let us hope the Attorney does not appeal it as unduly lenient.    Roger 
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6 December: 
I'm glad someone started a thread on this sentence. I suppose we have to be grateful for small mercies that this was a military court and not civvy otherwise he might have been looking at a much longer stretch, but 10 year minimum is tough. Does it mean 10 years before he is elgible for parole. If it does its unfair. He did wrong and he was convicted but to make him serve longer than most killers is just plain wrong when he was doing his job in the sort of stressful circumstances few of us could ever imagine.    Will 
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6 December: 
I can't see it on the Aspals web site but you might want to know the Royal Marine convicted of killing the Taliban scumbag has been given a 10 year minimum sentence. Way to long in my opinion. The law is an ass.    Tuppy 
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Thank you. we did update Twitter with the story by welcome your view on the sentence. Thank you. I have now added a link in your comment. Here is a link to the sentencing remarks of the Judge Advocate General.     Aspals 
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16 November: 
The marine will not get 30 years. There's good mitigation. I'd say nearer to 20.   Pegasus 
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14 November: 
I think very few people have experience of combat especially if they have never been in the forces. I agree with Tess that we all know right from wrong and we all know it is wrong to kill. Every day we face choices some good others bad. The actual choice we make is in full awareness opting for the bad option is wrong. The marine knew what he was doing was wrong but he still went on to do it. There was no justification because the man did not threaten him at that point. I was interested to read that 30 years is what he will get. That sounds a really long time when other murderers serve about 12.    Briony 
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13 November: 
Pete is right. I don't have experience of combat. But we all have an innate sense of right and wrong. These marines knew that. The sergeant admitted he broke the Geneva law. It was a cold blooded killing and should attract the usual tariff of 30 years.    Tess 
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12 November: 
its plain to me that the majority of people dont know what its like to be in combat and to get up close to an enemy trying to kill you. the paper aspals linked to explains the reasons why we need to stop this human rights rubbish from stopping us get on with what we are supposed to do which is kill the enemy. the taliban got no more than he deserved. the rat who turned in the film will not be popular with his mates. id be worried about having someone like that in my unit.    pete 
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12 November: 
I have no idea what it's like to be in the situation that the marines were in but I do know that killing a wounded man who poses no threat to you is wrong. So I disagree with Pete on this point. It was a pre meditated killing because they discussed it and one of the soldiers was upset that his colleague beat him to it. Our soldiers are supposed to be trained to observe the laws of war. Something went badly wrong here and the marines showed themselves as no better than the insurgents they fought against.    Tess 
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12 November: 
Does anyone know how the film of the marine killing the taliban came to light?    Will 
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12 November: 
I was very shocked to read Pete's message. The very idea of killing someone in cold blood cannot reflect how our soldiers are taught to behave. If it does then there is something seriously wrong and the good will they have earned from the public as noble and brave people will be lost. Breaking international law because you don't like it seems to be the fashion nowadays.    Briony  [corrected on request]
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11 November: 
the guy was already dying. all the marine did was put him out of his misery. just what youd do to a dog.    pete 
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10 November: 
Pre-meditated killing, with an expressed intent to kill an unarmed badly - if not fatally wounded fighter sounds like there's not much room for clemency. What's really appalling is that there was another marine who was keen to do it and who was annoyed the officer beat him to it. That man is now back at his duties.    Tess 
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9 November: 
It is very bad news about the conviction of the royal marine for murder. He shouldn't have done it but, in all the circumstances life imprisonment doesn't make sense. The law should take account of the pressures of battle.    Will 
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9 November: 
so another sqaddy gets shafted bythe peaceniks. i wonder if the taliban would have treated our guys any different. whod be a squaddy.    pete 
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8 November: 
you cant train properly if your always thinking of if your being sued. the army is different. peace time systems dont work on ops. its a different minedset.    pete 
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5 November: 
Thanks for the link to the report. It makes the usual points about how the army can't do its job properly unless it gets exemption for killing or injuring its own soldiers or locking up civilians. We need to move on from this 19th century view of life.    Tess 
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17 October: 
A new report says that the human rights culture of modern lawyers is harming Britain's defence. It is such a crass thing to say that I thought to bring to the Sounding Board. The idea that people shouldn't be held accountable for bad decisions affecting our soldiers is just too arrogant for words. Government getting away with risking the lives of servicemen by sending them into war with poor equipment which they are regularly told by superior officers is causing death and injury is negligence at the highest level. Scaremognering tactics by the MOD will not work.    Tess 
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Tess, the report is available in the Reading List, but here is a [direct link].     Aspals 
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1 October: 
Dear Aspals, I often visit your web site and find it very useful. I also enjoy the comments on the sounding board. My real favourite is the news page and archives and I wondered when you planned to return to the old format of daily news items and archived pages. It is really useful to be able to search and find important past news on military and international matters. Thank you.   Molly 
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Thank you, Molly, for taking the trouble to write to us. The replacement of the manual news pages and archives with automated pages was unavoidable, I am afraid, as they are very expensive to maintain (labour intensive) and we receive no official funding or support. All the same, the automated version does provide a good cross-section of news and it is possible to look at older pages of the Aspals Daily News. Underneath the header you will find the "Archives" link. This will then allow you to go back through all previous editions. You will need to ensure you have JavaScript enabled in order to do this. I hope this helps.     Aspals 
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5 September: 
Obamaa backed himself into a corner. He has very little popular support in the US and even less support for a strike of Syria. People are really pissed with him. Everybody cept him and Kerry can see that any attack on Assad is only going to help Al Qaeda. It's a no brainer. Nobody I speak to in the military or a vet has any appetite for this fight which they don't see as our business. We gotta bank on Congress voting the right way but I don't think they will let Obama lose this one even tho the Republicans can't stand him. He toughened up the mission objectives to win over their support so he really has put himself between a rock and a hard place.    Ramon 
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There have been some interesting developments questioning the undisclosed intelligence the US relies on to justify war. Most assessments seem to agree that Assad did not order a CW strike. According to one report, "Obama's top aide says the administration lacks "irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence" that sceptical Americans, including lawmakers who will start voting on military action this week, are seeking." See:
Associated Press Report/Yahoo News
Guardian News, 9 September
WND Politics
and the disturbing assessment by former US intelligence officers that suggests the President knows the evidence is unreliable and yet is still pedalling the rhetoric for war (reminiscent of Syria and WMD?):
Consortium News, 6 September 2013
We must recall the assessment of Gen Rose, when commander of UNPROFOR, after the attack on the market in Sarajevo killed 68 Bosnians. The Serbs were blamed. UK threatened a military response (Rifkind). There were calls for air strikes, but US Secretary Perry wisely said that although air strikes were not a problem, what happened next? Propagandists around the world condemned the west for letting the wicked go unpunished. When allegations started to surface that the Bosnian forces were actually responsible, their prime minister went on TV to ridicule the suggestion that Bosnians would kill fellow Bosnians just to influence opinion. There is no suggestion the PM knew of the responsibility for the attack. General Rose said, "In the view of some extremists ... it was better to keep the shells falling on their people in the hope that the US would one day enter the war on their side and to conceal this human strategy, they continued to blame the world for allowing 'slow-motion genocide' to take place in their country."Sound vaguely familiar?
This tendency to jump in on the basis of assumption, political pressure, press reports and clever manipulation and propaganda by one faction demonstrate why it is important for the US to put before the UN the evidence it says it has which proves conclusively that Assad was responsible for the CW attack. It must also set out "what next" if, indeed, the President decides to go ahead. One assumes the reason it is not doing so is, as these later reports show, because it does not meet the requisite standard. The tendency to let the heart rule the head is very dangerous in life, and is even more dangerous in politics. Mr Obama should listen to his military commanders - they have far more experience of war fighting and strategy than he - or Mr Kerry, despite his previous service.     Aspals 
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5 September: 
The US already made its mind up to get rid of Assad. Now it's trying to find the justification to fit its plan. Thats why with the vast majority of US citizens opposed to Obama's intended bombing they have to increase the hype and talk about US reputation and the international community's reputation. Its all BS to win over a deeply scetical public. The incredible thing is that Kerry said in a live debate with the brilliant Rand Paul that whatever Congress votes Obama may still go ahead and attack. That's democracy US style - and they say their way is better. I read today the Pope is against the US bombing and so is Ban at the UN. Ban said it would be illegal. That doesn't bother Obama. In 2o years time when China is a strong world power and US on the decline, as all great empires eventually do, I wonder if the US will support Chinese wars against countries that pose no direct threat to them or their population.    Pongo 
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5 September: Tess is spot on. The US is going around saying their credibility is on the line now the say it's the entire international community. They are really talking up the whole thing to justify their was. Also agree with Thinners that the risks of them going ahead are likely to affect all of us. I can't understand how the Israelis think that Assad is a worse person than the jihadist lot that would replace him. Still the Israelis have US protection so they can say and do what they want, as they did in Lebanon and are doing in the ocupied territories.    Tuppy 
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3 September: 
Macho American posturing is going to drag us into another middle east nightmare. Why don't these people grow up. Isn't there a war the Americans can keep out of or is their arms industry so powerful.    Tess 
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3 September: 
The Americans are up to their old tricks and upping the ante on the original objective. I dont know what they hope to achieve nor can I make out the Israelis in all this. While they might not like Assad the Syrians have lived peacefully with them for years and let's face it, the alternatuve to Assad will be far more of a problem. It just doesn't make sense. The very idea that the Americans are going to make a difference by lobbing in a load of cruise missiles is just too stupid to believe. It isnt clear why they think they ahve the right to take the law into their own hands. I suppose th elegal arguments are strongly against them. So if they are going to go ahead and attack they must have a proper end game. I just can't see it. The risks in what they are doing if congress gives Obama and Kerry the go ahead are likely to affect all of us.   Thinners 
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You make some good points, Thinners. The dossiers upon which each of the three governments rely have been published by the Guardian. I agree that the potential for escalation is enormous. After all, what happens if the Syrian government fires in self defence at a US warship or downs an attacking aircraft? I don't believe Assad will attack Israel, but Hezbollah might. That will bring retaliation from the Israelis and who knows where it goes from there. But one thing is clear: the United States will have been the catalyst for all that follows. I just cannot see it ending quietly unless the US has done a deal with the Syrians through diplomatic channels (believe it or not, these things do happen, in spite of the televised rhetoric). What is more, once the shooting starts you can bet your bottom dollar it will drag us in either directly as an ally, or as part of NATO, because I believe NATO will then get involved - if they are not already planning for this I will eat my hat. So, a rather pointless and, yes, foolish and illegal attack on Syria to satisfy US prestige, will have the potential to drag us into another, horrendous, war and once again, based upon tenuous evidence that does not pass the test of proof beyond reasonable doubt.
I am sceptical the Russians will defend their strategic interest in Syria with anything other than materiel support, weapons and intelligence. But I might be proved wrong. However, I doubt it.     Aspals 
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2 September: 
For all who think that the opposition used chemical weapons there is evidence the French have which shows it was Assad's forces. They have satellite images of Assad forces. Having said that I am not sure I agree that bombing those poor people will actually achive anything but more suffering.    Briony 
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2 September: Right. So let's get this straight. America is at war on terror with Al Qauida so, it wants to attack Assad who is fighting.....Al Qauida. So to protect and help the Syrians they are going to bomb them. Then we learn that far from being iffy on chemical weapons, the US actually condoned Iraq's use against the Iranians. Now we hear that UK firms were exporting chemicals to Assad which could be used for making sarin. You coudn't make it up.    Tuppy 
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31 August: 
i saw a web report that the intel the yanks rely on about a panicky telephone call was doctored. egyptian intel says the original call was a complete denial. cant trust anybody. but the yanks say the evidence is compelling. heard that one before from blair.   pete 
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I found this link, among my tweets for yesterday: "Verify chemical weapons use before unleashing the dogs of war", which mentions "a doctored report was leaked to a private Internet-based newsletter that boasts of close ties to the Israeli intelligence community, and led to news reports that the United States now had firm evidence showing that the Syrian government had ordered the chemical weapons attack on August 21 against a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus. However, the original communication intercepted by Unit 8200 between a major in command of the rocket troops assigned to the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division, and the general staff, shows just the opposite."     Aspals 
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31 August: 
Another victory for common sense and the rule of law. Obama will let Congress decide although Kerry is hell bent on war. The whole idea doesn't just look illegal it is also pointless. Worse of all it could end up playing into alqaeda hands.   Toby 
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30 August: 
I think Tess is right in her view of the intel assessment. Even if it was Assad forces, which it might have been as some press reports refer to panicked phone calls with the regime that looked taken aback, that is not an excuse to punish a country for the idiotic behaviour of a renegade commander. What I don't get, is that striking at chemical weapons plants is likely to do infinitely more damge than anything either the rebels or the regime has done so far. It seems to me that the whole impetus is driven by the we must do something brigade rather than by any proper detailed assessment of the actual crisi and what we want to achieve.   Will 
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30 August: 
A victory for democracy and common sense in last night's vote in parliament.Thanfully we shant be joining in an attack on Syria.    Tess 
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29 August: 
Following on from Aspals helpful comments, I thought the JIC remarks that 'There is some intelligence to suggest regime culpability in this attack. These factors make it highly likely that the Syrian regime was responsible' progress from a suggestion to probability in the space of a sentence. But there is no proof beyond reasonable doubt. The other remark I found interesting was the 'There is no obvious political or military trigger for regime use of CW on an apparently larger scale now, particularly given the current presence in Syria of the UN investigation team.' If this means that the regime is not likely to use CW on a large scale now, why are we thinking about intervening? That might change though is we attacked them.    Tess 
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29 August: 
Read the attorney general advice. Is a doctrine the same as a law? I cannot find a law on humanitarian intervention. Any pointers please to where I can find it or find out more about it?   Toby 
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A doctrine is a set of legal rules that may become law if they are widely accepted and applied eg to "doctrine of equitable estoppel". It is a form of precedent. Unfortunately, the doctrine (if such it is. I prefer "concept") of humanitarian intervention is not widely accepted as a norm and so that is the first flaw in the legal justification presented as supporting an armed attack on Syria. After the UK and US breach of the mandate for Libya, with Russia and China now highly sceptical of the interventionist motives of UK and US, one might say that R2P/humanitarian intervention, is a dead - or dying - concept, as it relies upon a UN mandate. In fact, the justification provided looks more like the beginning of an argument in self defence. However, the advice speaks of an "extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief". There is no ongoing urgency of this kind and, moreover, the time for any response has passed. We have seen in the interim that there has been no repeat, nor any threat of a repeat. The advice continues, "there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved". How does firing a few cruise missiles as an act of "punishment" (the word President Obama used in a televised interview last night) save lives? Whose lives are to be saved? Unless US and UK are prepared to launch an all out assault on Syria, then they will not stop the fighting nor will they save lives. Nor will they prevent the rebels from using sarin (something which the government continues to deny, in spite of Mrs del Ponte's findings and the arrests in Turkey of rebels possessing sarin - both of which are dismissed by JIC presumably as not credible). Sarin is easily manufactured by those with a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry, so I am led to believe. The third basis is "the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian need and must be strictly limited in time and scope to this aim". I suggest the time has well passed. It is one of the weakest arguments I have ever seen. The purpose of the attack is punishment. It makes no mention of the Charter as being the only lawful basis (as the late Lord Bingham stated, and the Arab League representative Brahimi mentioned only yesterday) almost as an acknowledgment that its relevance is unanswerable, so they do not attempt it. Yet this is effectively the advice that will take us to war, if Mr Cameron wins the day in Parliament.
But what of the evidence? Normally, one requires it before going to war on anything other than a pretext. And here we find out something rather curious. Mr Cameron made the extraordinary admission in Parliament today that there was "no 'smoking piece of intelligence' that the regime used chemical weapons". That is an astonishing thing to say. In effect, "we want you to vote for war and a breach of the Charter on the basis of our belief. Trust me. I'm the Prime Minister".
The case for war against Syria is even weaker than the case for war against Iraq. There, I never thought I would say that. But, at least there was an argument that the original UN mandates were still extant at the time of the alleged failure to let the weapons inspectors do their job.
With Mr Cameron and Mr Obama flatly refusing to acknowledge sarin use by the rebels, in the face of clear evidence, quite frankly I do not see why one should believe their "beliefs" about the regime. This is a case, I fear, that as Dr Eyal adverted to, the PM with "all the wealth but no persuasive legal case", developed the intent to go to war and asked his lawyers to find a basis to justify his decision with "a concoction of selectively-chosen facts mixed with a few high-sounding principles which, with a bit of luck, would bamboozle anyone who cares to read it."     Aspals 
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29 August: 
Both the JIC and the attorney general's advice are on-line. Neither makes very plausible reading. The JIC advice talks about limited but growing evidence and the attorney says that the basis for any attack is humanitarian. Is that the best we can do? I hope the MPs do their stuff and vote down Cameron's motion. I thought he piece by Dr Eyal was really good. Pity the attorney didn't read it first.   Tess 
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Links added, Tess. You are absolutely right in what you say.     Aspals 
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28 August: 
I must disagree with Briony. There's no justifiable reason for intervening in Syria. As terribel as the situation is, it is not our problem. Cameron should address social and political issues at home before strutting his stuff overseas.    Will 
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There is a very well argued response by Dr Jonathan Eyal, of the Royal United Services Institute, which shows the weaknesses in the arguments of those attempting to justify any attack on Syria as being within international law. It is particularly apposite, as the Attorney General (a man of great intellect, and a lawyer whom I respect), has apparently advised the National Security Committee that such an attack is lawful. Personally, without seeing the advice, I cannot understand how the Attorney could have come to that conclusion, for all the reasons Dr Eyal gives. The item can be accessed [here]. It is to be hoped that the advice providing a justification for taking this country to war again (let there be no mistake, an armed attack on a country that has posed no threat to us is an act of aggression and a breach of the UN Charter) will be published, in the public interest.     Aspals 
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28 August: 
Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. There are international treaties banning the use of these weapons and they are good enough justification for intervening in Syria.    Briony 
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Syria is not a party to the CW Convention Briony. The Convention sets out its aims as, "to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by States Parties. States Parties, in turn, must take the steps necessary to enforce that prohibition in respect of persons (natural or legal) within their jurisdiction." However, many academics believe that the ban on CW is now part of customary international law. In terms of use of CW, as this is a non-international armed conflict, the relevant provisions are in Additional Protocol 2 to the Geneva Conventions, and the provisions of the 1925 Gas Protocol which banned the use of "asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases and of bacteriological methods of warfare". Exempted from the CWC are "riot control agents", defined as "Any chemical not listed in a Schedule, which can produce rapidly in humans sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which disappear within a short time following termination of exposure." What is most interesting is that, although the Convention does not ban the use of riot control agents during peace time, article 1(5) says "Each State Party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare". There are other provisions regulating the means and methods of warfare, including 1868 St. Petersburg Declaration, the 1899 and 1907 Hague Convention, 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, the 1977 Additional Protocols, the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and its five Protocols, the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention and the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines. (See the ICRC site). As for non-international conflicts, only a limited number of treaties apply to non-international armed conflicts, namely the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, as amended, the Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property and its Second Protocol and Additional Protocol II and common Article 3. These provisions are not as comprehensive as the rules regulating international armed conflict.
This is perhaps all interesting background material, but the point still remains that the sole authority for authorising the use of force is the UN Security Council. Any action without a UNSC Resolution is prima facie illegal. It would be for the ICC to punish the mass killings and other war crimes alleged against both parties.     Aspals 
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28 August: 
What happens if Assad ignores the missile strikes and carries or or even increases the use of chemical weapons? Do we then find ourselves in an all out war? This is a very dangerous path we are going down. This is an Arab problem and should be left to them to sort out.    Tess 
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28 August: 
Dont know if anyone here caught the news item but the former chiefs of staff said they were not in favour of an attack against Syria.    Pongo 
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Link added.     Aspals 
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28 August: 
The rationale of humanitarian intervention which Willian Hague talked about hasn't been universally accepted as applying. In any case, I don't think it can be relied on without a UN respolution. Is that correct?   Tess 
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Humanitarian intervention is often confused with R2P (responsibility to protect) and which is used to attempt to justify breaching the sovereignty of a UN member state. It is far from universally accepted, as it would provide a justification for the powerful to get rid of leaders they didn't like. So, it has to be applied under the auspices of the UN Security Council. Only the UN Charter provides a basis in international law for the use of force against a sovereign state. As long ago as 1949, in the Corfu Channel Case, fears were expressed by the ICJ about the might is right policy of powerful nations to ride roughshod over the interests of weaker nations. The court held, "The Court can only regard the alleged right of intervention as the manifestation of a policy of force, such as has, in the past, given rise to most serious abuses and such as cannot, whatever be the present defects in international organization, find a place in international law. Intervention is perhaps still less admissible in the particular form it would take here; for, from the nature of things, it would be reserved for the most powerful States, and might easily lead to perverting the administration of inter-national justice itself." As far as I am concerned, that holds good today and is why we have the UN Charter.(Sorry about the wrong attribution. Now corrected)     Aspals 
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28 August: 
Well the Cammoron is definitely in Blair mode. Successfully cause chaos in one tiny arab country to get rid of a nutter and now on to the next. Like Aspals says, what does the US think it will achieve. If it is just to show strength then it is pointless. Either they are going to get rid of Assad and bring in an al qaida rebel government hostile to the west or they are not. If they dont want al qaida then why are they attacking anybody. Let the ICC sort out Assad later if he was in fact responsible. That hasn't been established yet either.    Will 
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That is the really big question here, Will: what is the point of the attack? What is it the outcome the Americans and Brits hope to produce? This type of action stands an exceptionally high risk of escalating the violence even more. It may even spawn terrorist attacks in our country and the US. The inexorable rhetoric and table thumping done by US/UK has had the effect of backing them into a corner where I believe they are now committed to an attack, as otherwise they will "lose face" and look weak. The Israelis have stirred the pot here, as they have provided intelligence to the Americans that they eavesdropped a discussion on CW use by the regime. However, are the Israelis trustworthy in this regard or do they have their own axe to grind? On the one hand they have had a stable border with Syria for many years. On the other hand, they do not like Assad's association with Hezbollah and the fact he has been the conduit for Iranian weapon supplies.
My concern here is that the west is not looking at the road ahead, to see that in fact it's interests lie with ridding Syria not so much of Assad but of the thousands of jihadists who now threaten any post Assad stability. That is the nightmare scenario. For us and for Israel. The west behaves with a certain degree of hypocrisy to Arab leaders. Some they define as cruel dictators who deny human rights while others (Saudi, Bahrain) they befriend and ignore the most terrible abuses. While I know not the truth of some of the stories circulating, there is one that purports to have uncovered a plan by the the Qataris, allegedly approved by Washington, to engage a UK security firm to drop a chemical weapon on Homs and blame it on Assad, so as to outrage international opinion and justify intervention. The article was also reported in the Daily Mail but was removed. However, I have the links. If there is the slightest grain of truth in this story, it is an outrage and is redolent of the dodgy dossier that took us into war with Iraq.
There are some hard questions for Mr Cameron to answer before he takes us into a war that 74% of the UK population is opposed to. I would like a little less rhetoric and more diplomacy from the leader of our country. I would also like to hear from him how he says that the attack he is proposing to make on a nation that has posed no threat to the UK comes within the UN Charter and is therefore lawful.     Aspals 
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27 August (posted 28th): 
If there is an attack by U.S. without a security council resolution, that would be an act of aggression and would be a war crime committed by David Cameron.   Toby 
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It's an interesting thought, Toby. As for he Americans, they are not parties to the ICC, so they have nothing to fear from it. The UK, on the other hand, is a party. But the question of whether David Cameron would be brought before it is likely to be answered in the negative, if he relies on competent legal advice and - which he will, as his advice will come from the Attorney General who is most competent. Under complementarity (the principle that we get first say on prosecuting any of our citizens accused of war crimes), UK will have to show that there has been a proper investigation into any allegation against Mr Cameron and that any decision by the CPS not to prosecute was one properly and reasonably taken. But I am getting a little ahead of myself here! To come back to your question, attacking a country (ie waging war) that is not threatening ours, without a UN resolution in support, would be unlawful and prima facie a war crime.     Aspals 
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27 August (posted 28th): 
The thing that really irritates me about this show of force by Cameron is that he talks big and says how much he loves the forces and then slashes them to the size of a home guard. Then he starts threatening a guy with chemical weapons and an army about 5 times the size of ours. He makes the country look ridicilous and it's embarrasing.   Thinners 
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27 August: 
Cameron really has lost the plot. He cut the forces to a low level, cut the air force and cut the navy so we dont even have an aircraft carrier or at least one with aircraft on it. He shouts and threatens like he's some major leader. He's an embarrassment.    Will 
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The Americans know we're a spent force. But if you need to say you have an international consensus, then strutting leaders like Mr Cameron come in very useful. The UK now hangs on to the coat tails of the US, which is really the only superpower left. Therefore, the US acts because it is forced to do something, even though doing nothing is the best (and legal) option. It isn't clear to me - nor many others - what exactly the US expects to achieve by striking at Syria. How is it going to improve the situation? If anything, it will make it much worse. It will also be illegal. Worst of all, we could end up with a jihadist islamic state which we helped to create, purely because of a dislike of Assad and the sense of a powerful nation rendered impotent by what is going on in Syria. We've seen this lamentable thinking before. But we've not learned the lessons of history. I don't think we should kid ourselves, either, that for all the rhetoric, Russia will do anything to aid Assad repel these attacks.
The other worrying aspect to all this is that, before even the UN inspectors have completed their job of ascertaining if CW was used, missile strikes are threatened. Even if the weapons inspectors find CW was used, the next question is, "by whom"? That does not seem to trouble the US. But, let us assume that the Assad regime did use chemical weapons, and the US strikes at the regime. Let us say they are very successful and the regime collapses. What next? Does anyone really believe that the moderate rebels will last long in the face of committed jihadists hell bent on creating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? When that happens and the ISIS is created, what do we think of the safety of Israel, surrounded by enemies? At least with Assad's regime, the peace has been kept for over 40 years. Now all that is at risk again. And more.
I mentioned previously that there is no alternative to diplomacy. The best option would be for moderate rebels to form an alliance with the regime and to turn on the jihadists and drive them out of the country. To do that they need to talk, without preconditions. Firing missiles at targets provided by the rebels will make that rapprochement much more difficult. If the US cares about the long game, it will think carefully on this, rather than wield a big stick merely because it is the only nation that has one.     Aspals 
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27 August: 
looks like the yanks are going to attack syria. It cant be legal   pete 
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It isn't - no matter how they dress it up (humanitarian help - which it clearly is not).     Aspals 
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10 August: 
no more from me   pete 
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9 August: 
Just read that Nightingale is appealing again. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/07/sas-sniper-danny-nightingale-appeal? Couldn't believe it. Where does he get the money from.    Pongo 
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1 August: 
people who want to ban the military justice courts probably never served in the forces so dont know what the needs of the army are. danny nightingale case is sad but he was a plonker for keeping the gun. he got caught and should have taken his punishment not blamed his mate. thats no reason for dishing the system.   pete 
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31 July: 
No wonder Tess likes the Guardian article as it suggests doing away with the military system. I think that would be a very bad idea. The military court in the Nightingale case did not come to a wrong decision. Nightingale was bang to rights and made admissions all over the place, not just to the police but to his mate as well and then tried to dump responsibility on his mate. Even a civi court would not have liked that accusation. Hard cases make bad law. The UK needs a separate system and the JAG and others should fight to preserve it not dismantle it. Like Pete I feel sorry for the guy, but less sorry than I did before as he challenged his own guilty admission and then blamed his friend.    Will 
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30 July: Read the article by Simon Mackay. So do away with the courts martial and then what happens when the guys go overseas. We need a separate military system.    Tuppy 
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29 July: 
Simon McKays peice sounds like sour grapes.    Pongo 
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29 July (sent 22nd): 
There's a very good piece by Simon McKay in the Guardian about the anachronistic court martial and summary justice systems. The time for change is here.    Tess 
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28 July: 
tories destroyed morale in the army. nearly every one i know wants to leave. civilian courts for military offences will completely undermine discipline. if civvy lawyers think that danny nightingale got rough justice then they are wrong. he did wrong got caught and should not have blamed his mate. thats the pits. he shamed the regiment   pete 
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28 July: If Judge Blackett gets his way with military juries Tess and Briony will be right and there wont be a need for a separate system. With a shrinking military that is all home based the danger is that the need for a portable justice system will disappear completely. That will save Cameron and Osborne even more cash which is all they are concerned about. The SPA and the judge advocate branch will not be needed anymore.    Tuppy 
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28 July: 
I don't de;ight in the sergeant's sentence and find myself agreeing with Tess that a civilian court may have looked at the case more sympathetically. I also believe that with the withdrawal of peopel from overseas bases there is no need to have a separate court system for soldiers, and they can be tried in the civilian courts in UK.    Briony 
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26 July: 
Brilliant result on the Nightingale case. I never believed him and blaming his mate was really bad form    Thinners 
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26 July: 
Sgt Nightingale case sees him convicted again. Good result for common sense. This shows the court martial system works and works well. Nightingale deserved the heavy criticism from the judge. What a huge waste of money this was.    Pimpernel 
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26 July: 
I take back my criticism of the judge advocate in the Danny Nightingale trial. They were strong words to criticise the people who egged him on to chase a hopeless case and have brought him to financial ruin. I feel sorry for the bloke but he had some bad advice and as the judge said appalling encouragement from MPs who should have known better.    Will 
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25 July: 
danny sentenced to detention. feel quite sorry for him but didnt like the fact he blamed his mate in the house. all the same good luck to him for the future.   pete 
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24 July (sent 22nd): 
My "bias" is as valid as Thinners.    Tess 
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19 July: 
Of course that is Tess unbiased assessment of military courts.    Thinners 
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17 July: 
I never said juris were perfect (answer Ramon). But juries drawn from members of the general public have no connection with the person on trial. The military is otherwise, theyre all in the same organisation. It has the appearance of unfairness.    Tess 
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17 July: 
In the States we've seen the injustice of juries in the Trayvon Martin killing. If the defence fits with the jury prejudice you get convicted or released depending on which they feel.    Ramon 
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16 July: 
So Tess does want a biased jury. She prefers a bunch of civilians who have no clue of weapon handling so they will acquit in their ignorance to a panel of experts who know a lot about weapons, about war, about the importance of keeping strict control over ammunition and who can judge Nightingale's conduct as a fellow professional. Another point. Just as a civilian jury can ignore so called expert evidence so can a military jury. On the point of simple majority, that was answered by Anthony on June 27. I rest my case.    Pimpernel 
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15 July: 
In reply to Pimpernel. Better that a jury errs on the side of the defendant than looks like a panel set to convict. What's more he was convicted by a panel who only needs to return a verdict by a simple majority.    Tess 
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8 July: 
On the Nightingale case, can the court marshall sentence him to more than he got last time? This is a re trial I think.    Thinners 
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A good question. "where a person authorised to be retried is again convicted on the retrial, the Court Martial may not pass a sentence that is (or sentences that, taken together, are) more severe than the sentence (or the sentences, taken together) passed at the original trial." taken from the Military Justice Handbook referring to Schedule 1 Court Martial(Appeals)Act 1998 as amended by Sch 8(54) of the Armed Forces Act 2006     Aspals 
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13 July: 
danny said he couldnt remember bringing the pistol back but he told his mate that he had a gun too when the house was being searched. so he did know even if he then forgot. but all of this happened after the brain injury. and at trial he tried to blame his mate. that is bad news. you dont push blame dont your mates. thats not how the regiment works. easy to see why the regiment dont want anything to do with him.   pete 
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13 July: 
A jury should be impartial and not drawn from the higher ranks. That is not a jury of peers. They let their professional judgment cloud their decision. A civilian jury would have approached the case purely on its facts.    Tess 
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13 July: 
Tess seems to want a jury biased in favour of the defendant, which is just as inimical to justice. An argument for getting rid of juries perhaps?    Pimpernel 
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13 July: 
Tess point about trial by military jury. I would say it is better because it's a trial by experts who understand the very heart of the case which was about bringing weapons back.Second, they are just as able as a civilian jury to see through a defence whatever the number of paid experts give an opinion.   Will 
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13 July: 
Reply to Pimpernel. My point being that a civilian jury would probably have given him a more sympathetic and impartial hearing. You seem to admit that a military court/jury, being experts in weapons, would be less sympathetic. That sounds more like prosecution bias.    Tess 
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13 July: 
Coming back to Tess. Your point being? Whatever the defence, the court didn't believe him.    Pimpernel 
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12 July: 
I thought the defence raised at the re-trial was one that related to his recollection which, because of his injury, meant that he had possibly created false memory and thereby made a false confession. He produced expert medical evidence to support his claim. A civilian jury is more than capable of dealing with that issue.    Tess 
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12 July: 
Wellsaid Pimpernel. The soldiers story /stories never sounded credible to me.    Will 
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12 July: 
I have to disagree with Tess on her assessment. The Nightingale case in fact supports the court martial system because the jury was made up of people who understood the very issues the court was concerned with. They will all have had weapon handling skills and operational experience. I read a lot of sentimental nonsense in the press written by people who never carried a weapon let alone fired a shot in anger yet who think that because this nco was a member of the SAS he has some god given right to flout the law. Why should an exception be made for him just because he is SAS? Why not every soldier? That would be a break down in military discipline and would present an huge problem for the civilian police in tracking all the weapons brought into the country. And what would the great British public say if any of these weapons found their way into the hands of terrorists or criminals and were then used to murder our citizens?
But if this is what the public think, and its the public that make up juries, it goes to show how wrong Tess argument is and how a jury would have actually failed to understand the issues in the case which the military jury was all too aware of.    Pimpernel 
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12 July: 
Whether or not Will believes Nightingale, the bigger question is whether the trial has the appearance of being fair when it was composed of members of the army who have an interest in seeing the man convicted to discourage others from bringing back war trophies. If the reaction of people commenting in online news reports is anything to go by it is unlikely a crown court jury would have convicted him.    Tess 
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11 July: 
Pete feels sorry for Danny Nightingale but if Danny were so brain damaged why was he still able to serve, why did he make the video admission which looks completely voluntary and sincerely made, and why plead guilty first time round? He faces financial problems from the costs of the cases but was he chasing a lost cause? Listening to the telly interviews he gave after the case, Danny sounded in possession of all his faculties and totally rational. Sorry, mate, I don't believe you.    Will 
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11 July: 
The Danny Nightingale case should not have been heard by a military court. The offence took place in England, the charges were laid under the Firearms Act and the were within the jurisdiction of the Crown Court. The conviction by a military court was a foregone conclusion in my opinion.    Tess 
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10 July: 
danny nightingale found guilty. poor sod.   pete 
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Link added     Aspals 
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10 July: 
The yanks and Brits are pushing for arming the rebels so they wont be bothered with stories that dont fit their battle plan. Today's news reported that the Russians have evidence the rebels used sarin last month. The yanks have already dismissed it. Lie peopl say, the rebels are a pretty unsavoury bunch with a list of atrocities to their names. The latest are thekillings of the 15 year old boy, the murders of Christian priests and the sickening head chopping and heart chomping incidents. Nice people we want to give weapons to.    Pongo 
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Link added     Aspals 
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8 July: 
Why the BBC and other meida gives these animals air time is beyond belief. They let this cannibal try and explain why he ate the bloke's heart as if his side of the story in justification is relevant. As for the sick videos he says he found why didn't the BBC ask him to produce the evidence. By now they will have manufactured it. This Sakkar, also known as Al-Hamad says he's got a second video of himself sawing a pro government militiaman into pieces. He thinks his barbaric videos will have an impact on the Syrian troops. The report worth readin is in Time at this link http://world.time.com/2013/05/14/we-will-slaughter-all-of-them-an-interview-with-the-man-behind-the-syrian-atrocity-video/. Cameron and his cronies need to look at that and understand who the nutters are theyre supporting. These are war criminals and out of control.    Thinners 
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6 July: Before the discussion kicks off about the Sgt Nightingale case, once the decision is known, I thought to throw in a matter for your thoughts and comments, relating to the cannibal rebel.
Along with many people who learned of them, I am appalled by the war crimes captured on video of the rebel execution by decapitation of three individuals and the more recent, notorious, case of Abu Sakkar, a Syrian rebel commander filmed cutting out an organ from the body of a dead Syrian soldier and purporting to bite into it.
This revolting and inhuman act is a crime contrary to Art 34 of AP1 and other provisions. The ICRC Statement on Customary International Law (applicable to both international and non-international conflict) states, in Rule 113: "Each party to the conflict must take all possible measures to prevent the dead from being despoiled. Mutilation of dead bodies is prohibited." This is also to be found in Hague Convention (X), Article 16. Before I get shouted down about the conflict being internal (which I think it is, still, at the moment - until the US and/or NATO sets up a NFZ), the ICRC continues that "The prohibition of mutilating dead bodies in international armed conflicts is covered by the war crime of "committing outrages upon personal dignity" under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, which according to the Elements of Crimes also applies to dead persons". This provision is contained in article 8(2)(b)(xxi) or art.8(2)(C)(ii)of the Rome Statute, the latter provision being applicable in non-international armed conflict.
Reports suggest Abu Sakkar has never denied his deeds. Indeed, he has boasted of them. His own superior commander, Gen Idris, has failed to take any action against him. Now, Sakkar's confession has been broadcast by the BBC, 5 July 2013, on their webste at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23190533, where he remained arrogantly unrepentant. I would respectfully suggest that the ICC prosecutor should consider an indictment against Abu Sakkar.
In relation to General Salim Idris, the rebel commander, he has failed to bring Abu Sakkar to justice and, while condemning the act ("We condemn what he did. But why do our friends in the West focus on this when thousands are dying? We are a revolution not a structured army"), one interpretation seems to be an abrogation of responsibility. While there is no doubt some element of concern about the level of control he exercises over the rebel combatants (he pleaded, "Is the West asking me now to fight Abu Sakkar and force him out of the revolution? I beg for some understanding here" the answer to which should be "yes, get rid of him"), he would seem to fall within the purview of the provisions dealing with command responsibility as he knows - and has commented upon - the Abu Sakkar incident. I therefore suggest that this conduct falls under article 87 of AP1, article 28 of the Rome Statute, and the "Celebici" Case (which emphasised the doctrine of command responsibility encompasses "not only military commanders, but also civilians holding positions of authority (…)" and "not only persons in de jure positions but also those in such position de facto (…)").
While western governments cry out for prosecution of Syrian government forces for war crimes, these two individuals have hardly drawn an adverse comment. Is justice blind - or partially sighted? There can be no credibility for an international criminal court if it fails to pursue all those who commit such terrible acts, and those who tell the world they are their leaders.
If, on the other hand, General Idris really does not have any proper level of control over rebels on the ground, why is the West confident that he can guarantee how weapons and other military aid will be handed out and, more importantly, that there is a coordinated battle plan with rebels following a structured chain of command and authority? Personally, I think his statement shows how uncontrollable the rebel factions are and that arming them will be a monumental act of folly which, in turn would lead to more, not less war crimes being committed by men such as Abu Sakkar. Evidence of other atrocities shows he is not alone.   Anthony   Aspals Consultancy
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29 June: 
The CGS made the point at the RUSI conference this week that there is nothing really to worry about in the decsision of the Supreme Court. His view, which seems to be the same as the one discussed on Aspals, is that commanders on the battlefield have nothing to fear from thier decisions and assessments. This is not the way a lot of the press is reporting the case. Just shows you can't always believe what you read. There's a thought.    Thinners 
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29 June: 
Has it occurred to anybody that the judge may be well ahead of the curve. He obviously knows that under this government the army is doomed to be cut to extinction so he is finding them jobs to justify the retention of each Service. Hooray for the judge.    Will 
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29 June: 
He can't answer the Twait decision. He says the complete opposite to the Chief Justice. If I disputed what my boss said I would be looking at the door marked exit.    Pongo 
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28 June: 
If we are to have 10 man juries we may as well civilianise our courts. Cant see where the manpower will come from. The suggestion looks like it is designed to cripple the three services and force civilianisation. I think Tess makes a goo d point saying that as we increasingly become a home based force there is less of a rationale for retaining a separate court system. May be the judge advocate wants to speed the process along. We will still need a system for COs to discpline soldiers, but could farm out the court work to the Crown Courts.    Pongo 
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28 June: 
If I may say so, the very idea of military juries of 10 members would cripple the army which has the most court martials. It shows that the JAG pays too much attention to legal theory and not enough to hard reality. How can he answer the Twaite decision?   Scipio 
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28 June: Tess is right that the stats I refer to are old, but at least I have supplied stats to support my rejoinder. I suspect that the remarks made by JAG are an indication of his plans for the next Armed Forces Bill. However, the Services should challenge him to produce the evidence to support the very general allegation he makes, especially as the Lord Chief Justice does not appear to agree with him. If he produces evidence that bears out what he says, then it may well be the right thing to do to make changes. The question then is whether the changes he suggests are the right ones in the present climate and whether their ramifications for the future of the MJS will see its demise.  Anthony   Aspals Consultancy
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28 June: 
I gotta say, the idea of military suing the government is amazing. Wow. It would never fly stateside. Bush and Rumsfeld got enough to answer for already.    Ramon 
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28 June: 
Just caught up with your news here. Interesting views of the JAG. I guess its easier for us in the States to produce members for court martial jury because our military is several times bigger than UK's. We had a number of Congressmen and women saying they want to remove the chain of command from our system. That is being resisted. Your British JAG's views show how important it is to have the military justice system run by military people who understand military justice and not civilian judges who frankly aint got a clue. In the US we managed to keep our system intact from civilian influence. Best of luck with doing the same.    Ramon 
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The present Judge Advocate General is ex-Service. He previously served in the Navy. In fact, he is the first JAG for some years to have a Service background.     Aspals 
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28 June: 
Anthony's stats are old. It would be useful to see some up to date figures I agree. But the JAG is right to point out how the serices system is different and how it should be brought into line. The best way, of course, would be to civilianise it. The need for a separate system is diminishing as the forces become more home based. So it would be better all round to lett he civilian system absorb the small number of trials by court martial. That way the serviceman receives the same level of justice as everone else.    Tess 
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28 June: 
whose side is this judge on. he doesnt know nothing about service life. should have had a military man in charge who understands pressures on unit manning.   pete 
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font-face: verdana,Times New Roman">27 June: 
Don't let stats get in the way of a good idea    Trevor 
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font-face: verdana,Times New Roman">
27 June: The JAG did not quote any statistics in either the BBC news report, nor the interview with Joshua Rozenberg. He referred to the "perception" of unfairness of a decision by simple majority. However, in so doing, he set himself at odds with the views of the Lord Chief Justice in the CMAC who, in the case of Twaite, considered the question "whether a conviction for a serious offence returned by a bare majority should be treated as unsafe, on the basis that a majority verdict dispenses with consensus, involves an over-riding of the views of the minority which itself suggests there are objective grounds for the existence of a reasonable doubt of guilt." He commented, " For present purposes we are presumably invited to assume that an acquittal on the basis of a majority decision does not engage any of these considerations." While it is true that he went on to consider the fact of majority decisions in Magistrates' Courts, "where the overwhelming majority of criminal cases are tried", he rightly pointed to the fact that the court martial system has been closely scrutinised for Human Rights compliance and that it has never been criticised over majority decisions: "It was open to the European Court to offer criticisms of the majority verdict arrangements which apply in courts martial. None was." He went on to say [para 29]: "There is no reason to conclude that a finding of guilt on a basis of a simple majority is inherently unsafe, or that there is an increased danger that it may be unsafe if, after conviction, the defendant may be sentenced to a substantial term of imprisonment. Equally we can see nothing in a process in which a verdict may be returned by a majority which infringes the right to a fair trial, or produces an unsafe conviction. The trial process is intended to be fair, and, as in this case, is demonstrably fair. The statutory provision is clear, and unassailable. Accordingly a declaration of incompatibility, even to the extent that section 160 (1) of the 2006 Act applies to schedule 2 offences within the Act, and any other offences carrying a maximum sentence of 7 years' imprisonment or longer would be inappropriate." It is worth noting that this was a case where the trial JA had inquired of the court the basis upon which they had convicted. The LCJ held that this was not a practice to be approved of: "There are no circumstances in which the way the individual members of the Board, or the way in which they voted, should be revealed." He then suggested "The Guidance issued by the Judge Advocate General should be reviewed in the light of our conclusion" to ensure that there were no more inquiries into verdicts.
Statistics adduced in the cases of Grieves-v-UK and Cooper-v-UK show that, in fact, conviction rates are lower than in the CPS. While these stats are 10 years or so old, there is no need to think there has been any dramatic change. So the facts are that in spite of any alleged perception, the conviction rate is more or less that of the civilian system.
A further point about the JAG's remarks is that he is not comparing like with like. A court martial "jury" is a very experienced body of fact finders. A jury in the crown court can be drawn from all walks of life with varying degrees of comprehension and education. If anything, it could be argued that a military "jury" is more well-disposed to the defence - before anyone challenges me to produce statistics, which I cannot, I nevertheless suggest this statement is as valid as the claim made to the contrary.
Consequently, while it is true that there may be a challenge, in so much as it is always open to a defendant to challenge an adverse decision, the jurisprudence seems to be against success. In times of diminishing manning levels and concerns about trial delay (a problem endemic within the currently structured military system because of the in-built layer of chain of command involvement) requiring "juries" of twice the number that would presently sit on serious cases and three times the number of those sitting on the less serious, yet more frequent cases would mean depleting already depleted units even further, and build in greater delay, in addition to the tripling of costs involved.
It may well be the case that the JAG will try to introduce these changes into the next Armed Forces Bill. The three Services should resist these attempts at all costs, in the absence of any adverse decision of the courts requiring it. How pulling together 10 individuals from an operational theatre to act as jurors is likely to enhance operational efficiency is a matter that will no doubt be food for thought. To prepare themselves for this, the Service Chiefs should engage senior counsel to provide the appropriate advice.
Sadly, I tend to agree with Tess's view that the military system is being pushed towards replicating the civilian system. The trouble with doing that is that it is difficult to retain a military system of justice if there are no differences. JAG needs to be careful how far down this road he is prepared to travel without unravelling the entire system. The difficult questions raised in Grieves are still out there - and it is not clear that he yet has the answers.   Anthony   Aspals Consultancy
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27 June: 
Did jag quote any stats to support his claim about court marshalls?    Trevor 
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26 June: 
At last the judge advocate general has spoken out about the unfair millitary system and identified that the civilian system is the fairest. What he seems to be saying is that we may as well go the whole hog and civlianise the court martial. He is right. It's time to hand the whole thing over to the civilian system.    Tess 
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18 June: 
Tess, it will be illegal. They yanks and Brits have manufactured the socalled evidence of gas. Why isn't its use more widespread? The reason is not because its the regime using it, becuse they've got loads of it and could have annihilated the rebels with it if they wanted, but the rebels who don't have that much although I read that they were making it themselves and buying it in Turkey. The US think they can do what they want without repercussions. If Obama gives in to the likes of McCain and Clinton he will regret it. So will the Syrian people and loads more in the Middle East who will get caught up in the spreading of the killing.    Will 
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23 June: 
The Russians wont do anything other than help out the Assad regime. They wont get involved in the fighting. The US knows this. It will get more interesting if air strikes kill Russian technicians helping the Syrians man ground to air missile sites. Putin might be pushed to do something then, but whether that is a military response or increased 'technical' support isnt clear.    Thinners 
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23 June: 
Aspals, the US have no respect for international law. They do what they want and the hell with the rest of us. If they want a war that till have one. If Cameron has any sense he will make sure we stay well clear and let the Americans get on with it. Interesting thought is what will the Russians do?   Pongo 
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23 June: The absence of US vital interests wont get in the way of a good war. UK and US are obsessed with getting rid of Assad even though the majority of his people support him. They have manufactured evidence of sarin use, ignored use by the rebels and ignored any report that supports the accusation of the rebels, they ignore war cirmes of the rebels and only focus on Assad's army. They want war. They will be war criminals but no one will prosecute them. Lookat Blair.    Tuppy 
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I agree with your scepticism over allegations of sarin use. The fact that the US, nor the Brits, nor the French have released any evidence to substantiate their claims shows how shaky it is. Anyone who knows just a tiny bit about using chemical agents realises that they are very unpredictable when delivered and factors like wind speed and direction can mean that these agents end up affecting your own side. The press has virtually totally ignored the UN Special Report and other non-UK reports about rebels using and being caught with Sarin. So, on the basis of "evidence" that would not be sufficient to charge an offender let alone prosecute and convict, and in spite of evidence that points to use by the "victims", the US is preparing to commit the lives of its servicemen, and millions of people in the Middle East, to a war that does not threaten its vital interests. Have we learned absolutely nothing? As for possible war crimes charges, we should remind ourselves that the US has deliberately stood apart from the ICC and does not subject its personnel to the jurisdiction of foreign courts (hence our extradition arrangements with them are very one-sided). There is little chance of any American official being arrested and tried (the Germans had their noses bloodied when they attempted to arrest and charge Rumsfeld. The German prosecutor thought that it would antagonise relations with the States and ignored its obligations under the Geneva Conventions saying in none of the indicated cases did the acts of which the defendants are accused have an effect in Germany, nor were the alleged perpetrators present in Germany - how is that for upholding international law?) However, we shall see them seeking trial before the ICC in respect of Assad and his team.     Aspals 
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23 June: 
If the Americans really are going to invade Syria, won't that be a declaration of war? There are no US vital interests at stake here. There is no direct threat against Israel. If it is like a declaration of war that will turn those responsible into war criminals, wont it?    Tess 
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23 June: 
The US is getting ready for intervening. The French, Americans and Brits are training rebels and the yanks have got hundreds of aircraft near bye. Poor old Jordan could be really trashed by a war that it doesn't want. Apart from a few nutters like Cameron and Hague everything I read in the press where they allow the public to comment is overwhelming against intervening. Hardly any news papers print anthing other than rebel propaganda.    Thinners 
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23 June: 
if they do send in our forces lets hope they ve got the right kit. all the same it will be very very messy.   pete 
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23 June: 
If Pongo is right then we will be stretched to the hilt. Our air force can't afford to lose combat aircraft. If we have to face Syrian anti aircraft missiles, it will be a huge mess and will drag us into a war that will last for years and cost more lives than Afghanistan. Only an idiot would think of such a thing. My big question is why would we do it when Syria is of no consequence to us.    Tuppy 
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22 June: 
Government making decisions motivated by money is a given. The present ConDem coalition is even worse. Cameron talks big about Syria but he cut the army by 5,000 experienced troops. No wonder UK and US are scrambling to get out of Afghan and selling out to the Taliban. They need to gather all availabe assets for the war in Syria. I don't believe a word of the denials about that. We're going in sooner or later.    Pongo 
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22 June: 
I don't think that the decision of the Supreme Court is a slippery slope as Pete thinks. I tend to agree with Anthony that it is to be welcomed but, like he says, it is no foregone conclusion that the outcomes will be in thier favour once the trials are heard. It is quite appalling that government can make decisions motivated by money over the safety of soldiers they send to war.    Tess 
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20 June: 
cant say i agree with squaddys suing the army. sounds a bit of a slipery slope.   pete 
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20 June: Yesterday's majority decision of the Supreme Court, to allow British servicemen to sue for negligence, is a great step forward. It is also right that the court recognised that article 1 jurisdiction extended to our soldiers. After all, if it can protect foreign nationals (see the Al Skeini case) who are under our control for a short period, why shouldn't it protect our Servicemen who are state agents acting in furtherance of government policy? They are under our jurisdiction for crimes committed, so why was it thought that jurisdiction was excluded for injuries they suffered in the line of duty, through negligence? All the same, it is not quite the victory it is hailed to be, but is an important decision. While the court decided that combat immunity should be narrowly construed, it still refused to interfere in policy decisions by government or the MoD (eg the decision to go to war). Significantly, and to correct what some people have been saying, it does not make commanders on the ground liable for decisions taken on the battlefield. They will retain a large amount of discretion in this regard. Therefore, the extent of the applicability of article 2 is still unclear. Although the complainants are now able to institute proceedings for negligence, not all judges were confident of success.
While it is probably right that policy decisions remain outwith the legal process, the major concern in the case of the Iraq war (and others) is that decisions were deliberately taken not to equip our troops with the best equipment for the job. Even when commanders, soldiers and families of wounded/dead were complaining about the vulnerability of Snatch Landrovers, body armour and other kit, the government was dilatory in doing anything about it. That is the essence of the negligence at the heart of these claims. If one puts this conduct within the context of a civilian firm, say an oil company, that became aware of serious failings in its equipment that were causing injuries and death, and failed to do anything about it in spite of complaints, it would be charged with corporate manslaughter and would be liable for huge amounts in damages.
Many of us know, from bitter experience, that the military often opts for the cheapest solution that money can buy, not the one that offers the best. Tight budgets may explain why, but this does not justify governments abrogating their responsibility to safeguard the lives of their Servicemen in pursuance of their foreign policy by ensuring that the obvious risks they face in combat are minimised to the greatest extent possible by the best equipment money can buy. While we go to war with what we've got, there is no excuse for failure to put right those equipment shortcomings with all due diligence. Money should not be an issue here - it should be made available by the Treasury, without delay. Our Servicemen are among our nation's most valued people. They are not some entry in a spreadsheet.
The families and the Servicemen in yesterday's case are now free to sue for negligence. Let us hope that the courts provide them with the justice they so richly deserve. Better still, an honourable government might consider settling the cases.  Anthony   Aspals Consultancy
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18 June: 
I can't agree that we should just let the killing go on. Over 93000 people have been killed so far in this war and millions made refugees. We have to do something to stop the fighting.    Briony 
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The numbers are quite horrific, Briony. However, I think you will find that the majority of those killed in the fighting are actually the combatants as the majority of victims are male (82.6%). See the UNHCR report.     Aspals 
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18 June: 
One finds a certain irony in Mr Cameron's plans for Syria without Assad - a matter of dubious legality anyway. As a believer in democracy he proposes to deny the Syrian people the right to choose their leader and have him choose it for them instead. Maybe we should try a similar system in this country. I wonder how long he would last as prime minister.    Roger 
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18 June: 
assad may be a bastard but hes less of a threat to us than the lot that are fighting him. i think hagues a pratt. hews been useless over syria and totally miscalculted    pete 
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18 June: 
Going in to Syria would be the war from hell. We'd be fighting everyone not just Assad's forces and Hizbolla. The rebels are a made up of so many extremist units that committed to jihad they will quite likely turn on the invader too. So it would be a real mess and for what. To put that lot in power and get rid of someone who actually was rather useful to us and kept the peace with Israel. His dad sent troops as part of the coalition in GW1.    Pongo 
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18 June: 
Guns to flesh eating rebels. No thanks    Tuppy 
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18 June: 
The point Aspals makes about the make up of the opposition now as opposed to 2 years ago is a very good one. Two years ago it might have been right to support the uprising but that was then. Now we need to stay well out of it as its a sectarian war and let them finish their fight. I saw somewhere that the majority of Syrians support Assad anyway so what the hell are we doing talking about supporting the oppos?    Will 
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You read it on this site, Will. A rebel commander in Aleppo (Syria's largest city) even conceded, rather dejectedly, that 70% of the city's inhabitants (in a mainly Sunni area) supported the regime. That should give Messrs Cameron and Hague some food for thought.     Aspals 
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18 June: 
The views of most people on Aspals are right to question intervention in Syria. I was really worried about the US attitude and the noises made by people like Bill Clinton urging the president to intervene. So it was reassuring to listen to the president's interview in which he sounded more conciliatory and understood the complexities of Syria and did not want to be seen as taking sides. That said, it is a bit odd he decided to send weapons to some rebels. What is the point? It upsets the Russians and doesn't really serve any purpose apart from encouraging the rebels to fight on instead of talking peace. We need to get a diplomatic initiative moving quickly.    Briony 
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How right you are Briony. Sadly, our own Foreign Secretary has been making some rather unfortunate remarks about the importance of arming the rebels, even at the G-8, and bizarrely insisting that in so-doing these weapons will not fall into the hands of extremist elements. He is reported in the Independent as saying "Britain must protect Syrian rebels from being 'exterminated' by Bashar al-Assad". Really? Who does he think he's kidding?. And what about the extermination of the large number of Syrian people who support Assad? Just about everyone, apart from him and the PM, seems to think it is an extremely bad idea to arm the rebels, who already have weapons. Boris Johnson rightly commented that this would be putting 'weapons into the hands of maniacs'. Sending more arms is not conducive to a peace process.
It raises a bigger question, I believe, about the credibility of our foreign policy and the abject failure to understand that Syria's rebels are not offering a better alternative than president Assad. The UK's links with the big Sunni money states in the Middle East are testament to the absence of their objectivity in any Sunni-Shia dispute and explain the rhetoric. However, the state of the rebellion now is very different to the popular uprising against Assad of over 2 years ago. The individuals involved are different and more sinister than the citizens who took to the streets with the hope of a Syrian "Arab Spring", now turned into a winter of discontent. Not the sort of people who are well-disposed to the West. Therefore, the belief that arming rebels will encourage them to talk displays the inexperience of our senior politicians and how hopelessly out of their depth they are. What we should now be doing is cooling off our support for these extremists (the "good" rebels are outnumbered and out-manoeuvered) and encouraging diplomatic efforts. Of course, one is not naive about these matters. This is more than just a civil war and has the added and dangerous twist of opening the sectarian fault-line between Shia and Sunni, although there is some ground for optimism in Syria itself where Assad does retain support from Sunnis, despite what is often said in certain elements of the press.
The realisation may have dawned that the west may actually now be backing the wrong side. Perhaps that is the reason for Mr Obama's recently expressed and justified caution. The rebels have no unity of purpose, apart from the departure of Assad, and are not ready to sit down and talk. The harsh, pragmatic course might be to let the fighting continue until one side or the other obtains a credible enough victory and then for the talking to start. The major challenge in that case will be one of containment within the borders of Syria and efforts to dissuade further outside interference from Iran, and the Sunni states backing the rebels. Perhaps that is why the US has left its Patriot missiles, F-16s and some troops in Jordan. As for revenge attacks, I anticipate that these will be more savage under a rebel victory than the other way round, where most of the rebel fighters are foreigners and will in all probability flee the country.     Aspals 
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15 June: 
If the Americans want to impose a no fly zone, will that need a UN authority or can they just do it under international law? If they can what would be the basis?    Tess 
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A NFZ would need the authority of the Security Council as it is effectively a declaration of war. It would follow that the patrolling aircraft would attack aircraft, troops and/or military installations of the Syrian government. They, in turn, might come under attack, which would bring retaliation, which would then bring further Syrian response, which would then escalate with attacks from outside Syria (eg by cruise missiles or drones) which, as we see, takes us to open warfare. It would be an extremely serious measure to take but, I am saddened to say, is a path down which Mr Obama has started to tread. Let us hope he draws back and realises that there is no guarantee that what follows Assad will be any better - and could be much, much worse. I have today posted some very interesting articles on the News Page which examine the options and the basis for the President's decision. These will eventually be moved to an archive page for June 2013. Nobody seems to think arming the rebels is productive or a good idea and many agree that it effectively scuppers the Geneva II peace talks. Many are also concerned about the wider and more long-term implications.
Added, 16th June: See the excellent analyses by The New York Times Review, Patrick Cockburn (whose article includes the interesting admission by rebel commander, Abu Ahmed, in the al-Tawheed Brigade that is part of the FSA in Aleppo, who volunteered to a reporter earlier this year that 70 per cent of people in Aleppo support Assad. "They don't have a revolutionary mindset," the rebel officer lamented, blaming this on the FSA's oppression, and corruption caused by "parasites" who had infiltrated its ranks), Robert Fisk and James Sherr.     Aspals 
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15 June: So the US has now decided that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against "its people". I leave aside who "its people" might be, even assuming that the claim of CW use is to be trusted. The problem with the US approach is that it ignores equally cogent evidence of CW use by the rebels - remember the findings of the UN Commission of Inquiry which said that testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin? The timing of this Damascene revelation (sorry about the pun) is remarkable: it comes after the consensus view that the struggle is now swinging in Assad's direction and the rebels are on the run. Is CW use the real excuse to justify Mr Obama caving in to the hawks in his government and, sadly the cries of our own PM and Foreign Secretary, to send arms to "good rebels" in the naive belief (a) they will be able to hang on to them from being snatched away by the "nasty" rebels, or that arming them will persuade them to come to the negotiating table where, surprise, surprise, they will find Mr Assad waiting to talk to them. Oh, of course, they don't want to talk peace with Assad. In fact, one wonders if peace is really on their - or the US - agenda. One thing seems clear, the Geneva II talks have now been effectively scuppered by the US move and, more worryingly, the US may have taken the first step down the interventionist road - all without a UN mandate. US politicians have to understand that when they see a fight they must distinguish between breaking it up in a fair and even handed manner, and weighing in on the side of the person that's losing (whose credentials they know nothing about). I would commend to everyone the article in the  Huffington Post, by John Glaser, which discusses the CW excuse.  Anthony   Aspals Consultancy
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13 June: 
looks like the yanks are limbering up for some type of intervention and that there going to arm the rebels as a first step. they cant be seen to have backed a losing side so there throwing there weigt behind good rebels. you couldnt make it up its so stupid.    pete 
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6 June: Mr Hague and Mr Cameron do not want to listen to any view contrary to their own ill-formed policy, that Assad must go - an illegal objective (there is no authority for regime change in the UN Charter) and a matter which, in any event, must be for all the Syrian people to decide. Not Mr Cameron, or Mr Hague, or Mr Obama or anyone else from outside that country. The evidence is now stacking up that the rebels are losing popular support (which was never as strong as the media would have us believe, anyway) and Assad's forces are turning the tide on the battlefield. Which brings me to another point. The US has criticised the taking of Al-Qusayr by the regime. I find this utterly incredible. Let's see. A government reclaims its territory from a violent, predominantly foreign extremist rebel group that is trying to usurp the lawful government (now supported by about 70% of the Syrian people). Then the US, UK and France criticise the involvement of Hezbollah while conveniently ignoring the presence of thousands of foreign jihadists who kidnap (remember the Archbishop of Aleppo? Where is he now? Senator John McCain was recently photographed with one FSA member thought to be part of the group responsible), maim, rape, kill and eat their opponents. So grave is the problem of foreign jihadists that it is reported today the EU is trying to prevent fighters travelling to Syria to take up arms with extremist opposition groups, for fear that they will return radicalised. The fact remains that the Al-Assad government is the lawful government of Syria. Like all sovereign governments, it may make alliances with other countries or agencies and may seek their assistance in any way it deems necessary. Isn't that what the US did in Vietnam, when it supported the Diem government in the south? Isn't that what we and other nations are doing in Afghanistan, as we support (and prop up) the Karzai government, under the auspices of a UN mandate, in its struggle with the Taliban? What of the Polish-British defence pact that saw Britain coming to the aid of Poland in 1939? How do we say such assistance is lawful in one case and not in another? A fortiori, when a nation is fighting internal rebel/terrorist forces aided by outsiders. Whatever the US/UK take on the situation is, one thing is for sure: whoever helps the Syrian government in its self defensive internal fight against rebels and foreign jihadists is not per se acting unlawfully.  Anthony   Aspals Consultancy
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6 June: 
Hague is a nutter, driving forward with this stupid idea that because the regime is suspected of using sarin gas we have to intervene. The point surely is that there is no conclusive proof about who used the gas. It could well have been the rebels. This is Iraq all over again and this time the fraud on the public is being played out in front of our eyes which is why were not fooled.   Thinners 
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5 June: 
Now that France and UK are pumping up the rhetoric again there is a real concern thatv they are limbering up for an intervention. Our depleted armed forces will be called upon again to do their bit for a caiuse that has absolutely nothing to do with UK.    Tuppy 
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How right you are, Tuppy. This is actually old news. We have heard allegations of sarin use for weeks now, but no one has been able to produce conclusive evidence either way, although the UN investigator (Carla del Ponte) alleged there "are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated," - powerful evidence against the rebels and, of course, we know that rebels were captured in Turkey with 2kg of sarin in their possession - something western media conveniently overlooked in their impartial reporting of this war. The French and Brits have conveniently overlooked these facts. What they also overlook, in the interventionist mantra, is the fact that, according to NATO data, 70% of all Syrians now prefer Assad to the rebels. That is a bigger level of support than the Conservatives have in this country, yet they claim to be the legitimate government along with their LibDem partners. In fact, the combined Con/LibDem government does not come close to 70% either. The Franco-British rhetoric is a response to the increased success of the Assad regime in turning the tide of the war to their favour and justifying to the French and British public any arms supply to the "rebels", whoever they actually are and however they are distinguished from the more than 1000 disparate groups that make up their numbers. That is why the sarin story keeps being re-hashed. The UN are not buying it because the evidence is so vague. The press, however, love it and will run with it and milk it for what it is worth ignoring, of course, the rebel use of this gas. Another thought is, as pointed out by Clemens Wergin, in Die Welt, that with every military success, Assad will be more unwilling to negotiate with the rebels - although they are the ones at present refusing to come to the table, failing to agree a position, failing to agree among themselves and, more importantly, laying down conditions which they know are unacceptable (which, I believe was a ploy to buy more time for them to sort out their disagreements). So is there a true intent on their part, anyway? But the constant reference to sarin is seen as a way of keeping up the pressure on the regime. As for France, it is a great way of deflecting public opinion at home form the very serious economic and political problems they have.
Just in case it be thought I am taking a pro-Assad view, what I have tried to do is present the other side of the argument to balance the very biased reporting we see, both in the press and the media. It is almost as if they want to egg on an intervention, with the inevitable risk to the lives of our servicemen, when this war is an internecine affair that does not affect our national safety or interests, other than the fact that UK and France (acquiesced in by Russia) bear responsibility for the original Sykes-Picot boundaries which some blame for the many problems in the Middle East by imperialist powers.     Aspals 
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3 June: 
Rebels caught with Sarin poison which just happens to be the type of gas they say Assad used, now there's a surprise. What occurred to me is that if there was a use of the stuff by Assad, why weren't more people affected? It could be that the rebels used just enough of the stuff to show its milder effects without killing any of their own side while providing physical evidence that sarin was used which they would then blame on the regime as having crossed the red line.    Will 
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1 June: 
My guess thatthe real reason the rebels aren't attening the peace conference is because the guys on the SNC do not actually represent all the rebels and so they don't have a single position to represent. So its all too diificult but a great opportunity to blame the Russians over the supply of rockets.    Pongo 
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30 May: 
The piece in Al Monitor is very worrying reading. Along with other reports in the press about rebel threats of genocide against Alawites, Shia and Christians, the West has gone mad throwing in its lot with this bunch of bloodthirsty loons. They actually make Assad's troops look like the good guys.   Thinners 
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There's some interesting news this afternoon, which casts serious doubt (again)on rebel accounts of innocence. A Group carrying a 2 kg cylinder with sarin destined for Syria has been arrested. It was found by Turkish police after searching the homes of Syrian militants from the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front. This blows wide open the claims by rebels that they do not use gas - remember it was Assad who first called in the UN to investigate what he claimed was a rebel incident of sarin use, but the UN, in typical interventionist style, insisted upon going anywhere they pleased. No wonder Assad refused. With manufactured videos placed on You Tube and now rebels caught in physical possession of a large quantity of the gas, by authorities of a state sympathetic to their cause, it shows how right Assad was to be cautious. The rebels have used disinformation very effectively to a receptive and gullible western media, all too ready to believe the meagerest evidence of regime wrongdoing to push for intervention on the basis that Obama's "red line" had been crossed. Funnily enough, the British and American public have been far more sceptical. And quite rightly so, it seems. And UK, Europe and others want to arm the rebels. It beggars belief.     Aspals 
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30 May: 
hague keeps banging on about forein fighters helping assad but ignores the 100000 foreiners fighting with the rebels. the rebels are in dissarray and are not a serious opposition whatever hague and the americans say. they cant agree between them abd keep banging on about only coming to talks on the basis that assad will leave pwer. now hes winning theres a fat chance of that.    pete 
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29 May: There's a very powerfully written piece by Edward Dark (a pseudonym for a Syrian currently residing in Aleppo) in Al-Monitor, for 28 May. It details how the Syrian rebels lost the revolution, through the antics of the wilder elements of the rebel forces. He details rebel looting, shelling of civilians and a general lust for revenge as responsible for destroying the revolution. He sees "the only way to Syria's salvation was through reconciliation and a renunciation of violence." Amen to that.     [Also posted to Disqus]      Anthony   Aspals Consultancy
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28 May: 
There's nothing absurd in Anthony's suggestion of a united front to fight the jihadists, who pose the real threats. Now the EU has really thrown a spanner in the works by ending the embargo on the rebels while leaving it in place for the regime. More weapons, more killing. How does that help the peace process? Daft if you ask me.    Tess 
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27 May: 
While I agree with what Anthony wrote, I would only comment that the peace process will not be between "two polarised factions". As Anthony points out, there are may rebel groups, he mentioned a 1000, many which do not agree with the SNC. So it begs the question whether any progress will be made at all especially when our country is laying down impossible pre-conditions.    Roger 
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I accept Roger's point. What I meant to convey was talks between two sides in the sense of Government and opposition (in all its forms). But I entirely agree, as I hope I pointed out in my post, that the opposition comprises may disparate groups who do not share the same ideology or vision for a future Syria. That does make the peace process a difficult process. The only solution that I can see, which has any possibility of success, is one I concede sounds absurd, namely, a rapprochement between the regime and the moderate elements of the opposition to unite and fight to rid their country of the extremists. So, the suggestion that we arm the opposition, to increase their negotiating power in the pursuit of peace, is manifestly unsound, as it prolongs the fighting and killing. We should be concentrating on a pragmatic solution that is in the best interests of the Syrian people. They are going to have to get over the divisions which the war has created. It is better to do that in a constructive way than the alternative, with one party ousting the other and the focus then inevitably resting on vengeance and cleansing institutions of the old guard (something we see happening in Libya) while simultaneously fighting jihadist elements hell-bent on the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.     Aspals 
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26 May: 
Anthony, agreed. Better the devil you know than the thousand devil's you don't know.    Pongo 
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24 May: I was listening to the Today programme this morning and the interview with Shashank Joshi of RUSI - someone who is always worth listening to. As he and John Humphries discussed the possibility of the Syrian government attending peace talks, the question was posed "who are the Syrian opposition"? The response from Mr Joshi was rather staggering. He said that they comprised over 1,000 different groups. Not all agree with the SNC's view of the future. So, the SNC is hardly representative of the opposition. The concern is, if the government reaches any agreement with the SNC, how can it be implemented when it does not represent the views of many different rebel groups?
The future of peace talks is also uncertain. The insistence by the US, UK and the rebels on imposing unacceptable pre-conditions (which these parties know are unacceptable) really hinders the utility of the process. Anyone who has ever been involved in negotiations between two polarised factions knows that the first step is to get the parties talking, without pre-conditions. At those talks, the agenda may contain only two or three items - one being the date of the next talks. Another should be to discuss an end to hostilities (realising that this will be discussed over the course of several future meetings). The political future of the country is something also to be discussed at subsequent meetings. The agenda must be kept short deliberately - no point in giving more scope to disagreement. Focus on areas where agreement is likely. However, the first intent must be to (a) get the parties talking and (b) end the fighting.
So it is very disappointing when our own Foreign Secretary makes unhelpful statements, the effect of which are obvious, by insisting on unacceptable pre-conditions - as if it is his call to make. He seems to ignore that these are decisions for the Syrian people, not for a tired former colonial player like the UK who "struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more". It should be quite clear to everyone concerned that the government of Syria is not cowed by threats from the west. It is still there and, if recent reports from the independent press are accurate, winning back territory. So, the conscious making of unacceptable pre-conditions means that the parties are insincere in their desire for peace talks.
Western leaders and those who purport to represent rebel factions should understand the real losers in this civil war are the Syrian people themselves. The misguided perception that Assad lacks popular support has fueled the continued killings and fighting - as have weapons supplies. The reports coming out of Syria are to the effect that while Assad does retain significant popular support, even among those who do not class themselves as his supporters many would rather have his secular regime in power than any Islamic fundamentalist authority which, they feel, would turn back the clock and plunge Syria into the middle ages. The dangers to the west, through these radical ideologies which consider democracy as anathema to Islam, should be obvious. Is the west really going to help install another anti-western government that takes all the help it can get while there is fighting to be done, but which will rapidly retreat into a fundamentalist and isolationist shell once it achieves any form of victory? Haven't we learned anything from the fall of the Shah in Iran? One thing that does look likely in the event of a rebel victory is that the fighting will continue between the 1,000 different groups, some of which (the best equipped and best trained) are Al Qaeda. That is the biggest threat in any post-Assad Syria.
I wish the peace process every success. I also hope that the problematic insistence on clearly unacceptable preconditions is quietly removed and that the parties get down to some serious talking. Then they can move forward and, ultimately, confront the challenge which lies ahead in the form of jihadist extremists who want to form an Islamic republic.     [Also posted to Disqus]      Anthony   Aspals Consultancy
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23 May: 
the israelis threatened to bomb anyone who defeates assad in syria. in other words they ll bomb the hell out of whoever wins.    pete 
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23 May: 
Good luck to the peacemakers in Geneva but I think that the statement by William Hague that post-war Iraq has no place for Assad in it is really not one for him and could actually hamper the peace process by dissuading the government from coming to the talks.    Tess 
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I couldn't agree more, Tess. If there is to be a chance for peace, then there really should be no preconditions. Statements like the one you mention are deeply unhelpful to the process and sound rather silly coming from the Foreign Secretary of a government that is in the process of reducing its army to a defence force. It is not for him to lay down conditions to the parties to a conflict about what they should discuss or agree. That is, as you say, a matter for them.
There is a signal lack of evenhandedness in the approach of western governments: they only condemn atrocities committed by the regime yet, as Roger pointed out, the most unspeakable atrocity of the past 3 years was recently committed by a rebel commander; they speak of rebels killed by government forces but pay no attention to victims of rebel actions (both military and civilian. One would think that only civilians sympathetic to rebel forces were killed in the fighting); allegations of chemical weapons use by government forces are roundly (and justifiably) condemned, but the suggestion by a former Swiss Attorney General and Chief Prosecutor at the ICTY that rebels used chemical weapons (when they have more reason to do so and to blame the regime, to make it look as if the regime crossed Obama's red line) are rubbished and cast aside; they call on the withdrawal of foreign fighters helping the regime, while ignoring the foreign jihadists and fighters (many from Europe) assisting the rebels; they condemn the arming of the regime while staying silent about CIA weapons and the huge contributions being made to rebel coffers and arsenals by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi. Is it any wonder that the Russians and Chinese are so distrustful of western intentions? Coming after Libya, I don't think so.
It is also interesting that in all the talk about intervention which, thankfully, has receded a little (although I still would not rule out the possibility) there is a distinct silence about the lawful basis for it, absent a UN mandate. R2P is a non-starter as, even were it applicable, it relies on a UN mandate to be effective. As for regional conflict, the clever ploy of threatening Assad to negotiate or we will openly arm the rebels is likely to produce quite the opposite effect and, rather than bring peace will fan the flames of war and ensure the deaths of many more victims. Sadly, Israel continues to play a very dangerous game and, like Turkey did (it has fortunately stopped its sabre rattling and rhetoric of late) is making some dark and dangerous threats.     Aspals 
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19 May: 
I agree with everything said but getting the parties round the table will prove harder than we think. There are too many rebel factions and the FSA is a loose umbrella organization that doesn't really have the clout the press suggests it has. The big question is if Assad is right that the US is biding its time to see if he can deal with the jihadists who are the real threat to all of us.   Thinners 
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18 May: 
Roger is absolutely right and I agree with him wholeheartedly. Getting both sides round the conference table is the only solution to end this horrible internecine war.    Tess 
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18 May: 
Brilliantly put by Roger. The rebels have really exploited YouTube and the videos have gained currency in the mainstream press even though their provenance is unclear.    Will 
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17 May: 
I share the concerns of many others on Aspals that the government should not be sending money or other support to the rebels. As others say, we have no guarantee that support will only fall into the hands of the pro west rebels. The bigger question is whether we should send any support at all. It is increasingly difficult to really tell one side of the fighting from the other. They both commit atrocities and they both manipulate the truth, save that the rebels seem to be better at it through their use of You Tube and the eagerness of western media to report everything they say. Our government unfortunately does not openly criticise rebel atrocities, except for the case of the flesh eating rebel highlighted by a departmental statement of a "spokesman". Where was the criticism from the foreign secretary over the most disgusting war crime reported in over 2 years of fighting?
I agree with Anthony that in war, truth is the first casualty. A few days ago we had reports and film of the most unspeakable act of barbarity by rebels, when a commander eat the heart and liver of a dead soldier. Another atrocity was the killing by Al Qaeda of soldiers after 'conviction' by a sharia court. Then, as if to dilute the effect of these terrible acts, the rebels accused the regime of using chemical weapons on civilians. Why the regime would want to use these weapons against civilians rather than rebel fighters seems to have escaped the press. The timing of the report looks a little more than just coincidence, although I concede that we do not know the full facts and nor, I suspect, do foreign governments - nor the press which is only too eager to report these matters, almost as if they are egging on an intervention, presumably to later lambast those involved for doing so on the basis of incomplete evidence, as happened in Iraq. A win-win situation for the press.
Tess's point about a negotiated settlement must be the right approach. The fighting will achieve nothing other than loss of even more life. Less war war and more jaw jaw. We need to focus on the post conflict era and how the new Syria will move forward without more blood letting. Ridding the country of the islamic extremist fighters will also present a huge challenge in my view and I agree with Pete that Israel would have a lot to be worried about from them.    Roger 
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16 May: 
Reply to Will. Cameron should not be sending more support to them. This is now unwinnable and the only solution has to be a diplomatic one. Get people talking. The rebels are an ill defined bunch and there isn't any clear leadership. But the real problem is Al Quaida. They need to be stopped for everyone's sake.    Thinners 
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15 May: 
Just caught this link [Sky News] about rebels firing on civilians who say they do not want them there. I throw it into the discussion about whether Cameron should be sending more support to them.    Will 
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15 May: 
Commenting on Thinners post (14 May) I think he will find that David Cameron has already conceded that the rebels can't win and he was now pushing for a negotiated settlement, which seems to be the right thing to do to stop the killing and suffering of all the people. Let's hope this is successful.    Tess 
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14 May: 
tuppy is spot on. we are swapping one set of tyrants for another and the killing will get worse. there will be lots of ethnic cleansing and a fight with aq mark my words which will make the current war look like a walk in the park. and it could get worse with a split between sunni and shiite across the middel east. if the islmists win then israel will be in rel trouble. it was a bit of mystery to me that they look as if they threw their lot in with the rebels, who sound as if theyre losing.   pete 
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14 May: 
Having watched part of the video of the rebel fighter eating his victim's heart and liver I am appalled that our government has failed to condemn this atrocity and instead is thinking about sending even more support to the rebels. Where are Cameron's scruples. It is unacceptable that he is spending money on kit to send to these barbarians who are worse than the regime forces he slags off, when we at home are going through austerity. He needs to get his priorities sorted. Leave Syria to the Arabs to sort out.    Thinners 
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To be fair, the FCO has condemned this atrocity. A spokesman said, ""We are aware of a video circulating online that purports to show a member of the Syrian armed opposition committing an act of barbarism on a regime soldier. We join the Syrian opposition National Coalition in condemning this act - there should be is no place for these kinds of acts in Syria." He went on to say it was for these reasons that "UK is intensifying our support to the moderate opposition to build their credibility as an alternative to the Assad regime and to counter extremist influences in the Syrian conflict." In other words, despite rebel war crimes, we are increasing our support to the side committing them so that the bloodshed can continue unabated.     Aspals 
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13 May: 
justify">The west wants a war but they can't afford it financially or politically. The Turks are eager to blame Assad for the latest bombings but without any clear evidence that it was the Syrian regime that had approved them or if it was the Kurds responsible or dare we think it, the rebels trying to get the Turkish goverment all fired up to ask for Nato help. The problem as I see it is that the opposition offers no better outcome for the west than the present goverment. Once peace comes, the killing will go on whoever wins. There will be scores to settle.    Tuppy 
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11 May: 
as an old soldier i would say if we were going in to syrai we should have done it ages ago. now its far to complicated and dangerous. we need a massive ground force and we havent got the troops. it would be a war with assad's forces. the iranians might be drawn in. the risk is too high.   pete 
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10 May: 
The inconvenient truth of Carla Ponte is very uncomfortable for Cameron as it damages his push for supporting the rebels. Isn't that why he in pantomime fashion wants people to ignore the findings of a senior international criminal lawyer like Mrs del Ponte who knows more about criminal law and the gathering of evidence than David Cameron. I think the weight of the argument lies with the criminal lawyer rather than the career politician pushing for military escalation.    Will 
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There is a very useful analysis in Foreign Policy, by Edward Luttwak, which looks at why the United States should forget about intervening in Syria.     Aspals 
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9 May: 
I would agree with Tess that turning these recent events around might have produced an entirely different response from the US and its allies. It is very worrying to see Israel act in such a cavalier way, putting up some loose and weak justification for what it did. In the meanwhile, David Cameron is baying for more blood by trying to persuade the Europeans to lift the arms embargo placed on the Syrian rebels - widely infiltrated by AQ. His arguments have been weakened a bit by the Israli attack and the UN alegaiton of sarin use by the rebels. As someone pointed out in a comment to an article I read, sarin is easily produced, so it would be naive to think the rebels would produce it and use it if for no other reason than to blame the army and get the Americans involved.    Will 
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And this evening the BBC reports that John Kerry has said that "Assad can have no post-war role". By laying down pre-conditions, which Mr Kerry knows the Assad government will reject, the fighting will continue. Thus, in spite of what was said by Kerry to President Putin, it looks like the Americans do not want a political solution. If they did, they would leave everything open for negotiation and concentrate upon getting parties around the negotiating table.     Aspals 
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7 May: 
The US are the hooligans of international affairs. They go round doing what they want and don't give s s**t about anyone else. The Israelis are the same. If blowing up a military base and killing lots of soldiers and injuring lots more isn't an act of war I don't know what is.    Thinners 
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7 May: 
US and Israeli foreign policy seem closely related - might is right. I find the Israeli argument on targetting missiles for Hezbolla a bit rich. They killed over 40 Syrian soldiers, attacked a site near the presidential palace and were unable to point to any evidence that the weapons they destroyed were in fact destined for Hezbollah. The US is perhaps overjoyed at what they did but we can guess what their reaction would have been if the boot were on the other foot.
I don't know about others but I do get a little sick and tired of pious US moralising about world events when they do not comply with international law themselves. While they look to prosecute other nationals for war crimes, they do not accept the jurisdiction to the ICC for their own nationals. It is a mistake for our government to align itself with US foreign policy in this matter.    Tess 
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6 May: 
The point about the Arab Leaguse is that they arent doing anything. Somebody has got to do something to stop the killing.    Briony 
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Your concerns over the human cost are well made and, I am sure, shared by us all. The trouble is that it is not clear how intervention (a) is lawful (b) would actually operate - as the rebels are guilty of atrocities themselves and infiltrated by jihadists/Al Qaeda that want to create an Islamist state (c) whether it would actually make the situation worse. Israel's actions are ineffably dangerous. In a volatile area already on the verge of exploding into regional conflict, you do not fan the flames of war by striking at your neighbour, who is fighting an internal rebellion, when he has actually been a peaceful neighbour who, for over 40 years, has coexisted without a major problem. The Israelis would be foolish not to be concerned about any post Assad government. So why they are undertaking military action that assists their Al Qaeda enemies is puzzling. For art 51 self defence, the threat must be imminent. It is not clear how the threats allegedly posed were imminent threats.
The Arab League has not taken any measures to put together a military solution. But that does not give other states the right to take the law into their own hands. The reality is that there will be no lasting solution other than a political one. The sooner the two sides start talking, without pre-conditions, the better. Threats of invasion might be great soundbites for rebels ears, but they are not constructive.     Aspals 
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6 May: 
Incredibly biased reporting on the beeb tonight saying there is a UN allegation that rebels also used sarin. The UN says that they think the rebels used sarin and Assad army did not. Then some bloke from the US government came on to say that he 'thought it was more likely the Assad regime used chemical weapons'. The yanks are so keen to get in there and get Assad that they don't want to listen to anyone else. They are going to supply weapons to the rebels regardless of what they do. This is just the same as we heard in Libya about protecting civvies. It was fine as long as the civvies were rebels. Is this what international law is about. Its a joke.    Thinners 
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6 May: 
I betya Obama is delighted that the rebels are bad guys too. It lets him of the hook and buys time to delay arming them. Most people in the States are anti any intervention in Syria. We've had enough.    Ramon 
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6 May: 
What a turn up for the books that the UN has now found it's the rebels and not the Assad goverment that has been using chemical weapons. Maybe that's why Obama didn't do anything when he said there was evidence of chemical use. He knew the culprits but to show support to the rebels never mentioned that the evidence pointed to them being responsible. That's why he never released the evidence maybe. Now the redline is crossed by the rebels will he bomb them I wonder.   Tuppy 
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6 May: 
The Israelis are stepping up the game and internationalising the war in Syria. It is a very dangerous step. This could have serious conseqences I think.   Tess 
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I agree that the Israeli missile/air strike is a very dangerous escalation of the violence, in an already highly volatile region. It is, arguably, justified as self defence, provided it was targeted not at Syrian assets but at weapons destined for Hezbollah. All the same, it is incredibly risky. The US will have watched this closely and may well consider their own unilateral action to do the same. However, in the case of the US - and/or UK - there would be no legal justification under the UN Charter. They would rest on the illegal doctrine of "might is right". It is not clear why the US feels they have the right, more than any other nation, to intervene in a war that has nothing to do with them, especially when they have no authority from the UNSC.     Aspals 
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5 May: 
I watched the video on You Tube with the interview of Wesley Clarke. That is quite scary stuff. He is entirely credible and what he says is very persuasive that US foreign policy in the Middle East stinks. I don't get why we Brits are supporting them in this.    Will 
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5 May: 
Why is it our business to get involved in every civil war in the world? Briony needs to remember that our forces are facing huge cuts in manpower and we are going through a huge financial crisis at home. I agree with what others have said. Let the Arab League sort it out. Not every problem is ours. No British interests are helped by siding with the rebels. Quite the opposite really. The extremists are a threat to us. Question, why are we helping them.   Thinners 
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5 May: 
What is happening in Syria is dreadful. People are being killed and we are standing by as spectators. What is the point of international law if we can't protect our fellow human beings from such cruelty.    Briony 
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3 May: 
Interesting discussion on Syria. I have a question. What would be the legal basis for the Americans to go it alone with a no fly zone or other intervention in Syria? Can they do that without a UN resolution?   Tess 
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To answer Tess' question, there is no legal basis for intervention by any state, outwith the authority of the UN Charter - Art 2 UNSC authorisation or art 51 self defence. The UNSC has not provided a mandate and there are no threats to US interests that justify the invocation of art 51. Neither can that provision (art 51) be used by NATO allies, such as Turkey, where there is no threat of armed conflict by the Syrian government. The one country that might be able to use art 51 is Israel, which has genuine fears of arms falling into the hands of Hezbollah fighters. Hence, its airstrikes have been limited and specifically directed at what it perceives as targets that pose threats to its security. Israel is also ambivalent about the prospects of a rebel victory, followed by a jihadi takeover which will, like Iran, be openly hostile to them and pose a real threat to their security. Despite their dislike of Assad, the border with Syria has been quiet and the region has been relatively stable. So they did not regard Assad as a threat to Israel. This is not something Israelis can be sure of in a post-Assad era. If anything, the situation could be highly unstable.
The Americans - and our own government - have hit a bit of a problem of late. The moral high ground they thought they were able to take over the claims that chemical weapons were used has been flattened by the fact that they turn out to be based on rather flaky 'evidence' and, perhaps, a whiff of rebel propaganda, That lies are told to further a political or self interest is not novel. Remember the Iraqi spy (Curveball )who spoke to the CIA about Saddam's chemical weapons? The Guardian reported that the "US relied on 'drunken liar' to justify war". So, they had to look for another excuse to get more deeply involved (although why that should be the case, and not the Arab League, is a more interesting question, as others have pointed out). This has now appeared in the form of claims of massacres and genocide. There is absolutely no coverage of the deaths caused by rebel fighters. So 'evidence' is being garnered of atrocities by the regime. Of course, atrocities/war crimes are being committed by both sides, but you wouldn't think it to read the majority of British press reports. The emphasis is on damaging the regime in the eyes of public opinion. Whereas, in fact, both carry out despicable acts of cruelty and murder. Will we see it as imperative to intervene every time this happens in the world?
President Obama is being forced to take tougher action by his political opponents and elements of the press and media. The UK is being manipulated into war by our press and by its perception of the so-called 'special relationship' with the US - something that we think exists, although one is not so sure the Americans see it quite that way. There has not been a single discussion that I have heard of the post Assad vision and how, should the rebels win, the west will be safe from extremist elements turning a secular Syria into a fundamentalist anti-west state, transforming the country into another Iran. So, why is the US meddling? Answer, because it can. It is a foreign policy objective, as discussed by Gen Clarke. It is so big and so powerful that it does not feel bound to the UN Charter. Might is right.     Aspals 
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3 May: 
I agree with what Roger says, but the Arabs don't want to get involved in a dispute between their brothers, so they would rather the US did the dirty work. And some in the US are keen to rise to the occasions.    Pongo 
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3 May: 
What is not clear to me is why the Americans see themselves as the nation that must intervene in Syria. Why can't the Arab League put together a force to do that? They are fellow muslims, after all. Surely a joint Sunni/Shia force could be crafted somehow.    Roger 
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A very good point, Roger. The answer lies, I suggest, as a long-term cynic, in the fact that sorting out Syria is a foreign policy goal of the US. We know this from the disclosures made to General Wesley Clarke. So any excuse to get in there and do just that will be seized upon. It is just fortunate that President Obama has managed to hold back the hawks in his government and the media for so long. Perhaps that is a legacy of the Iraq-WMD debacle. This time the people will not be so easily fooled into giving their blessing to the administration sending forth their sons and daughters to die in a manufactured cause. But the pressure is mounting on Mr Obama to do something serious, because of the "red-line" statement he made. Those urging such action are not the ones, however, who will be sent to do the fighting - and fighting there will be if any NFZ is attempted (an act of war in itself, without a UN mandate). At worst, it could set the Middle East alight and truly spark an international armed conflict. As for the UK, we should keep well away from this injudicious venture and leave the Americans to pursue their "might is right", to hell with the UN, foreign policy mission. Why try and broker a political solution when you can go to war and kill a few Muslims and get rid of a nasty man who doesn't dance to Washington's tune. That such a course would be an utter disaster, and would end up creating the very thing we most do not want - a fundamentalist Islamic state - seems to have escaped the hawks. Plus ça change!     Aspals 
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2 May: 
The point about press bias for the rebels is well made. To read most of these reports about the war in Syria you wonder how the rebels have survivied. All the media talks about is how the regime has killed them and civilians. It's as if the rebels don't kill anyone. Such a blatant and manipulative strategy to influence public opinion.    Pongo 
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2 May: 
To Aspals, the Russian press has been pretty good in putting the other point of view. To Ramon, the hawks in the Senate will always press for war as a projection of US imperialism and power and to hell with the UNx`. But the US ought to remember that all great empires fall in time. Look at our own.    Tuppy 
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2 May: 
Dont ya get it? Obama isnt making the chemical weapon "intelligence" public cos he knows it is useless and would be seen as useless. But by keeping it secret he can talk tough and threaten the regime while holding out a carrot of weapons to the good rebels. There's no public appetite here in the States for another war and Obama knows it. Nearly 70% of the population is against the idea.   Ramon 
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2 May: 
Following on from what Pete said, which I agree with, wouldnt it be illegal to set up a no fly zone without UN backing? I didn't think the US could just go it alone.   Tuppy 
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Yes, it would be illegal. A NFZ would necessarily involve acts of war, as pointed out by Pete. The US would need to knock out the sophisticated Syrian air defence system (a difficult and dangerous task, bearing in mind this was installed by the Russians) and would therefore mean engaging in hostile acts against a country that had not attacked the US or US interests. This is a manifestation of the "might is right" approach to international law and politics which the US seems to adopt, as it looks at all international problems in black and white, not appreciating that the world is a colourful place. Through the simplistic "good guys versus bad guys" prism, it seems to find it easier to project its foreign policy. What it shows, in my humble opinion, is a complete lack of understanding of complex foreign policy issues to the extent, in this particular case, of actually helping a side whose main military effort comes from sworn enemies of the USA. The original revolution has been hijacked by these jihadist elements and it is no longer the popular uprising it started out as. The US idea of arming the rebels will only prolong the killing and escalate the war, possibly setting the Middle East alight in the process. It is a crass idea which President Obama is being forced to implement by hawks in the Senate and an irresponsible and generally biased press which only reports one side of the fighting. The ONLY British newspaper to come anywhere close to an impartial look at this civil war is the Independent. BBC reporting is shamefully biased.     Aspals 
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1 May: 
the yanks are thinking about a nfz like we had in libya. not sure if this is a good idea bearing in mind syrian air defences. once a few nato planes get shot at the situation will escalate to war. cant see how it would not. it would be too much for nato to turn the other cheek if one of its planes got shot down. they would have to take out the air defences anyway before imposing the nfz. that would get real messy.   pete 
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1 May: 
It is quite interesting to see since Anthony's post that Obama has changed direction and is now more hawkish than ever. If indeed he intends to openly supply weapons and lethal help then the Iranians will join the fray and it will become a far more dangerous situation for the whole Middle East. Surely the Americans aren't that naive?   Tess 
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The Washington Post article still talks of needing "more conclusive evidence about how and when chemical weapons detected by U.S. intelligence agencies were used and who deployed them." Which means, at present, he is talking tough in an attempt to frighten the regime and bolster the rebels. This could work. On the other hand, if the Regime genuinely think the US is going to up the stakes so significantly, it might spur them to pour more effort into overwhelming the rebels to finish the job before that happens. In recent days they have made significant progress against the rebels, who are relying more and more on traditional terrorism in Damascus, none of which has drawn a single whiff of condemnation from the western nations. Clearly, if you are a civilian pro Assad your life is meaningless and worth less than if you a civilian sympathetic to the rebel cause. Mr Obama would be well to remember that disinformation is played skillfully in war. Perhaps that is why he is carefully determining the CW issue.     Aspals 
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1 May: 
As always, a valuable analysis by Anthony. The rebels are manipulating the press and using them in a way to apply pressure on Obama to do something. Is he being suckered into war? We saw this in the past in Kosovo, Bosnia and of course Iraq. Claims of chemical weapon use are all without any public evidence. Let us see your evidence. Let us know where you got it from, how you got it, when you got it. No war on the say so of secret dodgy dossiers. No war to help terrorism.    Will 
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You make a good point about press manipulation - we saw the same in Libya, which the western media swallowed unquestioningly. Here is an interesting item on YouTube, concerning Fake videos about Syria (CNN,Al Jazeera,BBC). The media, in its eagerness to show it is highlighting atrocities, is falling over itself to show anything or report anything from anyone in the region, regardless of provenance - a warning to Mr Obama, perhaps, on the more important issue of chemical weapons? The unfortunate thing is that Mr Obama rather rashly made a statement about a "red line" concerning use of CW. Now he feels backed into a corner by the press and political opponents who accuse him of weakness for not honouring his commitment. That, with all due respect to the accusers, is a foolish and childish attitude. War is not a game. Mr Obama needs to clarify that he is talking about widespread use of CW, not some sporadic incident which could have been manufactured, could have been from other sources. One would certainly have expected to see many victims of a sarin attack. There are not. Moreover, film footage emanating from Syria purporting to show victims of such incidents is really unreliable. Some shows "doctors" touching patients without proper protection and in a manner inconsistent with someone suffering from a chemical attack.     Aspals 
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30 April: I believe Tess and Will are right: you can't go round invading countries without UN backing through a Security Council resolution, although some countries think that the R2P (responsibility to protect) concept lets them do that. As for Genocide, while it identifies the crime, it does not permit invasion from outside as a means of prevention (see art 8). The UN Charter remains the law. Indeed, in any conflict between the obligations under the Charter and obligations under any other international agreement, the obligations under the Charter shall prevail (art 103). The Genocide Convention in article 6 examines the matter of jurisdiction: Persons charged with genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed, or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction. The latter category would include the ICC, but the problem is getting your hands on the individuals to try them. Of course, we should not forget that, although many people have tragically lost their lives in Syria, there has been no genocide, defined in art 2 as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
As for R2P, it can only operate within the context of a UNSC authorisation. It does not override the Charter, which represents the only 2 legal bases for intervention: an art 2 authorisation by the SC; or self defence. Attempts to secure US unilateral military intervention, via the Obama "red line" have failed. The highly questionable allegations of chemical weapon usage have demonstrated how important it is not to take rebel accounts at face value (or the heavily dramatised footage uploaded to YouTube) and that the lesson of Iraq, and the WMD dossier, has been learned. This rebel allegation may have seriously backfired on them and undermined trust in any future accusation they make. Truth, as is said, one of the first casualties of war.

The situation in Syria is incredibly complex. What started as a popular uprising has descended into a sectarian war, principally between Alawite, Christians and Shia on the one hand, and Sunni on the other. The rebel fighters, who our Government, the US, Saudi, Qatar and Turkey are helping, are now extensively contaminated with extremist Al Qaeda elements who are ideologically committed to the destruction of western society by imposing their extreme form of Islam upon us all. In effect, the real irony is that they are the real enemy of the west and moderate Islam, not Assad. Having thrown in our lot with the Free Syrian Army, the "decent face of the rebellion", are we now backing the wrong side?

One thing is for sure: there will be no winners in this war. Whoever succeeds in overcoming the other side will no doubt seek revenge on those who opposed them. Too many sectarian killings have occurred for families of victims to forget or ignore. If Assad wins, there will be a period of distrust of the west, and bridges will have to be built. But, in the end, some form of stability will return to the region. This is in Israeli, Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian interests too. Rebels have tried to internationalise the internal conflict by attacking neighbouring villages/targets over the border as a way of inducing those countries to get involved.

If the rebels win, we are not sure what will happen or which rebel faction will gain the ascendancy. The best to hope for is that there will be a sort of Muslim Brotherhood type regime like the one we see in post-Mubarak Egypt. That is a less than perfect scenario, as Egypt is, as we see daily, in a state of turmoil. The West also overthrew Gaddafi and, what is hailed as a success (which it may have been, militarily, as the combined air forces of NATO and its allies pulverised a little state with no air force to speak of - and it still took 9 months) is in effect recognised as a complete failure, with the "government" existing only in Tripoli and unable to even comply with requests from the ICC to hand over Saif Gaddafi who is in the custody of former rebels that the government cannot control. If the Syrian rebels win, there is no guarantee that there won't be yet more bloodshed between the jihadist elements and the more moderate FSA. A conflict that could see yet further destruction of the country and many more deaths and many more refugees.

The other is the "nightmare scenario" of an extremist jihadist government which turns the clock back many years and destroys the sophisticated and secular nature of the country, shows its true colours as vehemently anti-western and becomes another hostile state in much the same way that Iran did after the west failed to help their ally, the Shah (as they also stood by when Mubarak, another US ally, was removed from power in Egypt). We have seen the consequences in Iran. Are we about to do the same to Syria? Al Qaeda's goal is establishing an Islamic state and not a Syrian state. Any Sunni jihadi government there will look to Saudi as a fellow Sunni state - or will it? Will it see Saudi as the next step in its ideological struggle? The cause is bigger than the nations supporting it. The Saudis would be well advised to bear that in mind. As should Turkey, a NATO member. Shia Iran will be isolated even more and, along with Iraq (another post-conflict NATO failure?) could form a stronger Shia axis. The problem is, Iran is developing a nuclear bomb. [We have succeeded in keeping Iran isolated - another policy failure - instead of trying to bring it into the confraternity of nations].

The naivety of western governments is hugely to blame for the failure of foreign policy. For example, in its adherence to the concept of human rights - a noble ideal - it views such rights in a vacuum. What I mean is that the west does not grasp that what we term "human rights" may not be seen in exactly the same way in another country with different religious and cultural sets of values. That is why, for example, in post Gaddafi Libya, the torture the west so vocally condemned actually continues. It is just the political flavour of the victims which has changed. Because we want to nurture the new Libyan state, such as it is, we fail to condemn this. Thankfully, HRW and Amnesty have no such qualms. But it displays double standards on the part of western governments. The same applies to Syria.

So, the only viable solution that I see has any chance of long-term success is one where the FSA and the Syrian Government start talking with each other to end the conflict by peaceful means, without pre-conditions, that each knows the other will not accept, and then combine to eradicate the growing extremist Al Qaeda monster within, to rebuild Syria. This needs to happen sooner rather than later. In assisting this process, the UK, US and other governments need to stop supplying weapons to rebels (yes, we know you really are doing it, despite your denials, you are just not doing it that openly) and fanning the flames of war with constant threats of a military solution. The Russians are absolutely right on this one. Get the parties talking, without pre-conditions.     [Also posted to Disqus]      Anthony   Aspals Consultancy
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29 April: 
I'm not an international lawyer but I didn't think you could go round invading countries without the UN's permission. Isn't that the point of the UN? Hitler's invasion of the Sudentenland was for "humanitarian purposes". You can't leave it to individual countries to decide to take the law into their own hands. It gets trickier if there is proven use of chemical weapons, mass killing amounting to genocide. I would hope that should the situation get that bad the Russians would get on board. But what a mess it will be if we did have to send forces in. Would the Iraqis use chemical weapons against us? Could we/would we fight back with our own chemical weapons? It's all quite scary.   Tess 
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29 April: 
Cameron is a joke. He talks as if he's still got an army of 140,000 men under arms. With the latest cuts he will have reduced us effectively to a defence force. Punching above our weight. All we can do is cling to the US coat tails. Anyway, I'm not sure how legal it would be to attack Syria without the Security Council giving the OK. US Admiral Stavridis said last week that we need a Security Council resolution.    Will 
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29 April: 
Pete is right. We should talk about Syria because Call me Dave has seen some sense by toning down the garbage he's been spouting lately about nerve gas and intervening in a country that has nothing to do with us. May be he learned the lesson of Blair's hasty Iraq judgment about WMD that led us into a war that in fact solved nothing apart from get rid of Sadam the madman but cost us British forces lives. Stay out of Syria Dave and stop helping islamic terrorists win.   Tuppy 
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27 April: 
nobody talking about syria. cant be any interst for lawyers then.   pete 
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15 April: 
members of the forces do do an amazing job mainly because of the chain of command and the duty to obey orders and not whing. as soon as we got the human rights culture we started producing soldiers more concerned about their rights than duty to others.   pete 
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15 April: 
Just to comment on the discussion Goldie started, I think there is a union already for the forces members to join. I am pretty sure I heard a representative talking about the organisation on the telly.   Will 
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You may have in mind the British Armed Forces Federation? It is promoted as an "independent professional staff association", which is not quite the same thing as a union. There is, in law, no reason why the military should not have a federation along the lines of the police. In fact, as has been pointed out in the past, Council of Europe Recommendation 1572 (2002) 11on the Right to association for members of the professional staff of the armed forces was adopted by the Standing Committee on behalf of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, Sept. 3, 2002. "1. The Parliamentary Assembly recalls its Resolution (1988) on the right to association for members of the professional staff of the armed forces, in which it called on all member states of the Council of Europe to grant professional members of the armed forces, under normal circumstances, the right to association, with an interdiction of the right to strike. It also recalls its Order No. (1998) on monitoring of commitments as regards social rights, calling on the member states to implement the European Social Charter". As we know, this has been ignored by the UK governments of the right and left.     Aspals 
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12 April: 
Have been off work for a couple of weeks and finding it hard to get the grey matter working. s.367 AFA 2006, persons subject to Service Law. If they receive a dishonurable discharge or discharged under QR\'s, services no longer required, surely a person would no longer be subject to service law? Is there any clear regulation as to when a person ceases to be subject to service law s.s 367-369 not very clear and I am going work blind. Any help in pointing me in right direction gratefull appreciated. On the last post from Pete (09/04/2013) about soldiers complaining!!! I think that members of the Armed Forces do an amazing job under some very difficult circumstances and environments. There are occassions where there are genuine complaints that the Chain of Command either do not wish to recognise, or would rather brush under the carpet. As an ex serviceman I can recognise that who are pulling the wool and those who have genuine and deserving complaints. They should be allowed to make a complaint and not fear the consequences, last time I looked we were not in communist China.    Goldie 
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I only have access to an old version of QRs (Army)(Amendment No 26), although I cannot believe the position has changed that much. I presume that your question relates to dismissal with disgrace from Her Majesty's service, following a conviction by court martial? Under QR 9.397, discharge is to be authorised on AF B1301. The competent military authority to authorise discharge is the commanding officer. QR9.379b. requires that the discharge of a soldier of the regular forces is to be effected as soon as possible after it has been authorised.
For soldiers serving a sentence in a military detention unit discharge will be effective from the date of completion of sentence. A soldier serving a sentence in a civil prison will be discharged on the date the authorised discharge is promulgated by the governor (QR.9.436b)
Hope that is of some help. Perhaps someone with access to any later amendment to QRs can comment if anything I have said is now out of date.     Aspals 
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11 April: 
this is a bad decision by the us general. we changed so can them too. its disappointing that us officers treat justice as their private feifdom.   pete 
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11 April: 
The case Tess refers to does make very disturbing reading. If the press reports are accurate, the officer responsible for this appalling decision needs some serious counselling to respect the findings of properly constituted courts. Having said that, if you give someone a power they will tend to want to use it. The fault therefore lies predominantly with a system that permits someone to interfere in a lawful decision. Interfering over sentence is bad enough, but to interfere over findings of fact, when the jury has heard the evidence, arguments over admissibility have been presented and the defence have legal representation before a legally qualified judge is nothing short of an affront to justice. I understand that while the power to overturn findings of fact might be removed, the power to interfere over sentence will remain. That, in my humble opinion, displays a signal lack of understanding of what "justice" and "fairness" mean. It must be some sort of compromise to appease riled generals irked over their loss of control, but it is a lost opportunity to make necessary changes.   Roger 
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Roger and Tess make very powerful points. The UK system suffered from similar serious flaws, which were corrected in the Armed Forces Act 1996. That legislation removed the ability of the chain of command to decide the charges, select the prosecutor, discontinue proceedings if they saw fit, overturn convictions and interfere in sentences. The three independent prosecuting authorities were created (now merged into the SPA by the AFA 2006) which were less susceptible to command interference. In any event, the egregious powers of the Convening/Confirming Officer were thankfully removed. We, too, had some quite shocking similar outcomes by our own Convening Officers and COs, similar to the case overturned by General Franklin. In one case, a soldier convicted of rape, after a two week trial, had his conviction quashed by the CA purely on the basis that the officer, having just read the trial transcript and not having heard a single witness' evidence, did not believe the girl victim. In another case, a soldier arrested for rape was released from custody on the basis that his CO did not think the case was strong, despite the contrary views of the police and the advice of the prosecuting officer, with the result that he raped and sodomised a 19 year old girl within a few days of being set free. Neither case can now happen without judicial authority (appeal or "bail").
Since 1996, the only right of recourse for a disgruntled convicted servicemen is to appeal his conviction and/or sentence, just as any other citizen can. The new system is more respectful of victims' rights. It may well be time for the US to take a long hard look at the fairness of its military justice system and to think about the way the system is perceived, especially from the standpoint of a victim. The NIMJ in the States has long been sceptical of the US military justice system and monitored the UK changes closely.     Aspals 
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11 April: 
I agree with Tess that the behaviour of this man is a powerful reson to abolish the involvement of officers in the post-trial process. Isn't that what appeal courts are for? The General's behaviour is nothing short of a disgrace and underlines the misogynistic and neanderthal attitudes of the USA's modern military. It's time women were treated with respect and dignity. The general should be sacked.   Briony 
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10 April: 
It is hard to believe that in the 21st century we are still hearing about military officers overturning the decisions of a court as if they and they alone were imbued with some divine authority to dispense justice and to overturn convictions when they didn't like the verdict because the accused was a doting father with a good career. If ever there was an argument for abolishing the military system of injustice this is it. I hope that the general doesn't have a daughter. I was so very angry when I read about this case and his chauvinistic sanctimonious attitude.   Tess 
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9 April: 
i try again to post my answer to goldie. there is too much windging in the army. instead of complaining squddies need to get on with life. the human rights brigade is ruining the modern soldier whose more interested in himself than his unit.   pete 
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Sorry Pete. I am afraid that I cannot locate the posts that were sent while I was away. I would ask everyone to accept my apologies.     Aspals 
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3 April: To all who have written in about the Sgt Nightingale case, I apologise for not publishing your posts but, with a trial/appeal imminent, I thought it best to wait until the outcome. I agree that there is much to discuss. I will post those comments sent while I was away. Sorry, again, for the delay.     Aspals 
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22 March: 
I refer to the post of Pete, I am not suggesting a Union. The Forces do not wish to have one. What they want is an effective system whereby if they have a legitimate complaint, they can lodge it and feel safe that the chainof command will not pick them out as a trouble maker. The recent defence committee heard about fears of service personnel who did not have any trust in the complaints procedure and feared that it they did pursue a complaint that might be in the firing line for redundancy. I for one believe that this is a situation that has to change. Service personnel should be entitled to make a legitimate cliam for unfair dismissal and/or constructive dismissal. In relation to the Courts-Martial system, in FINDLAY, we were up in arms over the situation where the courts-martial regime was ran by the chaim of command. The changes that have been implemented since have much improve the Court-Martial system and I do not suggest that civilians should get involved with the service disciplinary or justice system.
An ombudsmans, indepedant of the MOD and chain of Command, should have the right to hear complainst that would amount to unfair dismissal etc. Alternatively, lets all vote for a change in the law and then give the soldiers, sailors and airmen the right to commence claims before the Employment Tribunal. It is not surprsing to hear that the Chain of Command are against an Ombudsman and also Employments rights as they would then be found in charge of a system that it ineffective and bias, just as happened in FINDLAY.    Goldie 
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21 March: 
The increasing involvement of civilians in the discipline and complaints systems of the three forces can only be a good thing. There is something innately wrong with the services judging their own cases. The appointment of an ombudsman with full and effective powers to do the job and hold the 3 services to account is essential.   Tess 
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There are still concerns over the summary disciplinary system, but no one has come up with a viable alternative that will operate during times of deployment overseas, where the local laws may not exist or, if they do, may not be up to international human rights standards. I am pretty sure that most servicemen in those circumstances would be more than happy to be dealt with by their CO. More serious cases would be sent for court martial. In terms of the ombudsman, I think this move is long overdue. I could not agree more that it is wrong that the military sits in judgment on claims against the chain of command, where it has interests of its own to serve in denying complaints for redress. Britain is one of a few nations in the civilised world that does not have an armed forces ombudsman, yet. It is time to put this right.     Aspals 
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17 March: 
ombusman, civlians in charge of military departments what next a trade union for squaddys    pete 
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16 March: 
I quite like the idea that Goldie put forward in yesterday's blog, but I have my doubts about how it could work effectively in any of the three services. So I think that the ombudsman option is the best compromise available as he or she is outside the chain of command. The big disadvantage at the moment is the time it takes to sort out these complaints but again an Ombudsman could serve to speed that up.    Roger 
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15 March: 
I read with great interest the recent Defence Committee (article 26 February Aspals news) that there are strong suggestions that the Service Complaints Commissioner should be changed to an Armed Forces Ombudsman. Guess what, the chain of command are opposed to that, what a surprise. In an article in the Guardian there is reference to many in the Service being worried about making a service complaint for fear of being frontlined for discharge/redundancy. Easy job for the chain of command, soldier, sailors and airmen cannot complain of unfair dismissal or constructive dismissal. No they have to submit a redress of grievance under s.334 AFA 2006. Who deals with that initially, the same chain of command that is against am ombudsman. The complaints system is not working effectively. However, there is a potential light at the end of the tunnel, an e-pettion to the government asking them to consider whether members of the Armed Forces should have the right to claim unfair and constructive dismissal http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38918 As an ex member of the RAF and a practitioner who is approached by service personnels asking for advise about what amounts to employment matters, I strongly encourage all to sign the petiton and pass the link far and wide. Those who serve, do so because they are proud to. Sometimes, their lives are put on the line, is it not about time that these men and women should get the same rights that their civilian counterparts take for granted. I for one, say a big YES.    Goldie 
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15 March: 
danny nightingale - brill news    pete 
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10 March: 
cant believe the story about virgin kicking up a fuss about the wren wearing uniform on a flight. everyone should write to branson and tell him that he lives his rich mans lifestyle off the backs of squaddies.    pete 
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4 March: 
nightingale appeal hearing on 13th.    pete 
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13 February: 
when your serving on ops where the local law is to chop your hand off for pinching a loaf of bread a squaddy wants to be dealt with under military law.    pete 
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11 February: 
I didn't see the Parliamentary debate, but the Times articles were good. The need for change is becoming more clear and widely understood. My opinions are well known, and haven't changed   Tess 
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9 February: 
Its all very quiet on the SB. What do people think about the parliament debate about the justice system in the forces? Can it survive.    Tuppy 
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It's good to see you kick-starting things, Tuppy!     Aspals 
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2 January: 
Edward's strong condemnation is understood. I do not quibble with the finding of the GMC nor the sentence handed down. I think it serves as a clear reminder to all professionals that they must remain true to their ethical code, and a stark warning of the consequences that may await for failing to take their professional and ethical responsibilities seriously.
At the same time, I can understand the enormous pressures, when embedded within a unit, for a non-regimental officer to conform and blend in. He is the outsider and naturally wants to fit in. Moreover, anyone who "rocks the boat" is quickly ostracised or made very unwelcome. He is reminded that he is a "civvy in uniform" or someone who is militarily naive (usually expressed in more direct language). It takes particular fortitude in such an environment to do the right thing. There is nowhere else for the medical/legal/police professional to live. His post is tied to the unit. Factor in the relative youth of the individual and one produces a situation in which it is difficult for all but the most assertive to stand up and be counted. That does not excuse the failure but, hopefully, provides a little context.
The failure to tell the truth is the critical finding here, I believe, which may well have tipped the balance towards removal from the register.    Anthony 
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1 January: 
Doctor Keilloh may be an excellent GP but he has continually perjured himself when he was given many opportunities to tell the truth. A Doctor must be above the fray. He must do his very best to help and care for his patients. Mr Mousa apparently had 93 injuries including fractures and blackened eyes - Dr Kielloh denies seeing any of these injuries. Terrorists and other war mongers have no rules, not even the most basic rules of the Geneva Conventions but we the British have higher standards, but, this time Dr Kielloh did not act as a Doctor, did not take measures to protect and care for a man who in fact was totally innocent. Words fail me. Local people may love the GP but he must answer for his failure to act in accordance with his oath. I will not be signing a petition.   Edward 
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