War Games


Although you may currently consider it not an unattractive prospect, unless you live on another planet, you cannot have failed to hear about the Idlib attack in Syria on 4 April.  Similarly, you also cannot have escaped the finger-pointing that has, and continues, to go on in the aftermath.  It’s like eavesdropping on a school playground; he said, they said, I didn’t, he did.  On this occasion, those participating in the hair pulling and shin-kicking have forgotten that children went to bed that night, and they didn’t wake up again to go to their school or its playground.   As none of these people seem particularly interested in finding out what really happened, in this post-truth era where shouting your mouth off the loudest seems to count as reality, I have decided to be avant-garde and look for some facts.

Before I get to the facts, I would like to cover a few basics.  Sean Spicer, if you’re reading this, perhaps you would like to pull up a chair.  Here are a few pertinent definitions from the OED, which I think in the nicest possible way can be considered the horse’s mouth as far as the English language is concerned:

True  :  in accordance with fact or reality; genuine; real or actual; accurate and exact.

Truth  :  quality or state of being true.

War Crime  :  an action carried out during the conduct of a war that violates accepted international rules of war.

If you can just put aside the strange notion of war as having rules, here is a very basic precis of international law on war crimes as I understand it to be.  Bio-chemical warfare is dealt with in the Geneva Protocol signed on 17 June 1925 and which came into force on 8 February 1928.    The 1969 United Nations Resolution 2603 (XXIV) was the Resolution which prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons in international armed conflicts, but only in so far as it applies to the countries who signed up to it, and to them only in so far as any qualifications they put on their signing up to it.  As it is pertinent to this piece, the UK, the US and Russia all ratified this Resolution.  Originally, all three countries had reservations to their ratification.  Russia withdrew all of theirs in 2001, the UK followed in 2002 and the US have retained one reservation.  That reservation is that if chemical or biological weapons are used on the US or one of their allies, in not respecting the Protocol, the US could be free to retaliate in kind on the aggressor.  In short, if someone uses a chemical or biological weapon on the US, all bets are off.

By the way, you haven’t mis-read it; the 1969 Resolution originally applied to international armed conflicts i.e between countries.  If you have a look at Article 8(2)(b of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court  dated 17 July 1998 (‘the Rome Statute), it goes a little further – the intentional direction of attacks on the civilian population are also cited as a war crime.  From what I have read, the use of biological or chemical weapons in non-international armed conflicts is now also considered to be a war crime in customary international law, twisted comfort as it is.

In order for a war crime to be proven as such, there is a burden of proof, which is on the prosecution.  The prosecution have to prove the guilt of the person or persons beyond all reasonable doubt.  In order to do so both the mens rea (it was in the mind of person or persons committing the offence) and the actus reus (the act itself) must be proved.  Without mens rea there cannot be criminal responsbility.  As far as the mens rea is concerned in relation to a war crime, under Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute, there has to be both intent and knowledge with intent being an “awareness that a circumstance exists or consequence will occur in the ordinary course of events.”  Being negligent to that consequence also counts as having sufficient mens rea for a war crime.  The actus reus, the act itself, one would hope, is self explanatory.  Everything that I have read suggests that it isn’t so straightforward in practice.  There is a lot of commentary on both of these points which is impossible to cover in this piece but suffice it to say that one can only hope that common sense would prevail were it not to be clear. Or the ICC would take what lawyers call a policy decision.

So facts.  This is what I have been able to find as true, that is factual Sean, with regard to the attack on Idlib:

1. At around 6.30am on Tuesday 4 April, four bombs were dropped on Idlib.

2. More than seventy people were killed, of which twenty seven children and five hundred and forty six people were injured.

3. The WHO reports that the symptoms exhibited by the victims were consistent with “exposure to organophosphorous chemicals, a catergory of chemicals that includes nerve agents” that are banned under customary international law.

4. Medecins Sans Frontieres concurred with the WHO’s assessment.

5. Postmortem results carried out by WHO officials in Turkey confirm that chemical weapons were used.

Other interesting pieces of information that merit further investigation and corroboration:

1. Soil samples are being gathered by rescue workers to determine which nerve agent was used.

2. A witness, Hussain Salloumi, a volunteer with the air-raid warning service in rebel-held areas said he saw a Syrian army jet approach at low altitude and four bombs were dropped all together.  Mr Salloumi was around one and a half kilometres from the site.

3. Kareem Shaheen, a reporter with The Guardian, one of the first western journalists at the scene said he saw a hole in the road but surrounding homes and buildings remained untouched.

4. The US have said that a review of radar and “other assessments” showed Assad regime aircraft flying over the area at the time of the attack.

So we know that someone deployed a chemical weapon(s) four times on that date and time, which led to the deaths of scores of people and many more injured.  We also know that a war crime has been committed.  The person or persons committing the offence either knew or was negligent to the consequences of dropping those four bombs, and they dropped them, either at their own behest or someone else’s.  We do not yet know what the chemical was and we do not know who the perpetrator was.

Russia has asked for rebel forces to “offer full access to study the area and collect necessary information.”  I realise that it’s not as headline-grabbing as dropping bombs back to show that yours are just as big too, but this does not seem like an unreasonable suggestion to me.  Surely an independent team may be agreed on by the Assad regime and the rebels (and Russia and the US as they treat everyone like pawns in wizard chess) to find out the truth?    To quote from the CPS and their recommended approach to international criminal matters: “If a safe and effective investigation in that country cannot at this stage be carried out then it will not be possible to identify the suspect.”

Doesn’t anyone want to identify the suspect? Has anyone stopped amidst the frenzied eye-poking to consider that a few facts might not go amiss?  I realise that the answer may not be found, and it may not be politically convenient if it is, but surely it is our obligation to try.  We know about this atrocity.  We all know.  President Trump said that “no child of God should ever suffer such horror.”  I don’t think anyone can disagree with the sentiment of that statement.  If he and all of the other Heads of State involved in this mess truly believe that, then they should grit their teeth, co-operate and put their money where their very large and very loud mouths are.


Visions of Loveliness



My new found radiance (see Complex blog from last week if this has passed you by) has taken something of a knock due to me getting a cold this week.  I fear that my shower mousse is not up to the task it has been presented with.  There is no need to rush off searching for your violins, I don’t want any sympathy.  You’ve probably all had it too if you live in England.  And if you haven’t, you no doubt will over the Easter holidays.  Just to warn you, it’s a three day headache where at one point you will lie down on the sofa and wonder if it would hurt less just to cut your head off.  And a nose like a tap that is so bad that you will end up just stuffing a tissue up each nostril.  Once that is all over you will end up with a cough that lasts for about two weeks. A really irritating tickly raspy cough.  Today is the first day that I have felt normal.

We all know that what you really need when you’re not feeling your best is a child around you.  Not just to look after, but for an encouraging word or two, to get you through the day.  Those of you who have children, work with them, or have spent any time with them whatsoever, will be aware that their tact, diplomacy and sense of embarrassment are entirely lacking.  I have three of these living with me in my house.  Each and every day there is a new and exciting opportunity for a derogatory personal remark or observation to be thrown in my direction. And I am around lots of others children, so the possibilities for a well (or even poorly) timed put down are both numerous and endless.

Earlier on in the week, not at my most erudite, I had prized myself out of bed and forced myself into the shower in the hope that it would make me feel vaguely human.  Before you all put your violins down and start hunting for the Febreze, that is not to say that that is the only shower I have had – I have one every morning without fail.  It didn’t really work as I still felt awful but lying in bed and expecting to be looked after was not a runner.  As I was getting dressed my daughter was chatting to me and asked me, entirely innocently, just as you would ask why birds have feathers or why the Earth revolves around the Sun, why I have so many wrinkles.  I was a little surprised to have this brought to my attention.  I have some wrinkles (or “expression lines” as my pot of moisturiser advises).  I hadn’t thought that I have so many that they are worthy of comment.  Just the number that would roughly indicate my age should one wish to examine my face in detail.  Pressing on, she then went onto ask me why my teeth are yellow.  Again, I have never considered that my teeth were those of an old crone, never having smoked and had my first filling aged twenty seven.  They are all my own.  I brush them twice a day.  My dentist seems happy enough.  They’re teeth.  What more is there to say?  I was beginning to feel a little got at.  As I sat down on the bed to slather on another layer of moisturiser, I also considered a second brush of my teeth and maybe gargling with bleach.  Imagine my delight when my tummy was patted by a little hand and I was then cuddled by my daughter who said: “it’s okay, Mummy.  I don’t mind that you have lots of wrinkles.  I still think you’re beautiful with them and I still love you.”

I was telling a friend about this charming incident, as she had telephoned me to cancel a lunch date; she too had been struck down by this cold and she sounded like Barry White.  Being sensitive, I mentioned this to her and she claimed that she also looked like him, but I suspect that she was exaggerating.  On taking her son to school that morning my friend had also managed to get herself up and dressed and into the car.  When he joined her in the passenger seat he took one look at her and with a panicked expression said “oh, you haven’t got any make-up on.” After a few minutes of concern, he then decided that it would be all right to be taxied to the school door as my friend had assured him that she had no plans to exit the vehicle at any point.  No one would see her.  No one would know that she was his mother.

Not wishing to be left out, the previous week her daughter had commented on how awful she looked.  How lovely.  Who doesn’t need to hear these things?  When my friend brought it up with her daughter later on that evening, realising that she may have hurt her mother’s feelings, her daughter said “Oh I didn’t mean all of you.  Not all of you. Just your face!”  Well, why didn’t she say so in the first place?  That’s so much nicer isn’t it?

I have decided that I am going to send these three children on a holiday over Easter.  They are going to the UN Security Council.  And they are going to tell them what to do to sort out what is happening in Syria. Then maybe instead of worrying about everyone’s sensibilities, agendas, who has armed who, and who did what, all of the supposed adults in that group will collectively agree that, whoever did it,  killing children is a war crime.  And it must stop.  Now.  And that they will, they will, find a peaceful solution.





Photograph diogenes_3