Sunday, April 08, 2007


Mistitled Editorial

I hate trying to come up with titles, so I know that it can be difficult, but this editorial by Linda Heard is completely backwards: Forget assumptions, let's wait for the facts. I say this because she has forgotten the facts and made huge assumptions.

Let's take a look at a few:

The contretemps between Tehran and London over the detention by Iran of 15 British naval personnel couldn't have come at a more sensitive time. Iran is in the international doghouse over its uranium enrichment and stands accused by Washington of arming Iraqi Shiite militias. The US has an armada on Iran's doorstep and may be poised to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. [emphasis added]

We are still in the first paragraph, but just take a look at the exquisite word choices: the oh-so-neutral "detention" to describe Iran's action and the loaded "armada on Iran's doorstep" to describe the US. I suppose that it is a "fact" that the US "may be poised to attack", in the sense that it is a fact that anything may be about to happen.

Whether or not the British crew were in Iranian waters is almost impossible to assess. It's feasible that both Britain and Iran are acting in good faith, and it's just as likely that one side isn't. Both sides are attempting to convince the international community of their own veracity.

Instead of making the assumption that it is almost impossible to assess where the British personnel were, how about looking at the facts. Like the fact that the Iranians don't seem to know where the Brits were when they were picked up. The first position that they gave the UK government is within Iraqi territory. Only after the UK pointed out this fact to the them did they realize their error and "correct" it to move it within Iranian water.

Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray maintains "the Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary... The published boundary is a fake with no legal force."

OK, finally here is a fact that no one can disagree with. Mr. Murray did say this. However, his statement is quite possibly wrong. Check out the take of the International Boundaries Research Unit of Durham University. These scholars know more about the facts of the boundaries involved than you or I (or Mr. Murray).

In fairness, at this point in the proceedings, no one should take sides. If the sailors and marines are guilty of trespass then Iran had every right to arrest them, especially as Britain and the US are hand-in-glove in Iraq and Iran is being threatened with attack.

If the sailors and marines are not guilty of trespassing, then Iran has no right to hold them, even though Britain and the US are hand-in-glove in Iraq. In fairness, if you are going to assert that Iran is being threatened with an attack, you should provide some evidence.

Just imagine what would have happened if the shoe had been on the other foot and Iranian boats had been caught within Britain's 12-nautical miles limit.

Wait, we were forgetting the assumptions and waiting for the facts. Ms. Heard, with this statement, you are assuming that the British crew was violating Iranian waters. See, at this point you have revealed that you have no interest in looking at the facts. You are going to blame the British for this. In your imagined scenario, you would be arguing just as strongly that the British were wrong to apprehend and hold the Iranian sailors.

For lay observers in the West the easy option is to jump to conclusions that Iran must be in the wrong. It may be but shouldn't we strive to keep an open mind?

Yes, but not so open that our brains fall out.

The mainstream Western media - with some notable exceptions - is particularly guilty of painting the picture in Britain's favour by quoting ministry of defence assertions without question and garnering analysis from biased pundits, who invariably portray Britain as an honourable victim and Iran as a rogue state led by irrational individuals. Those same pundits were just as convinced that Saddam Hussain had the bomb.

Again, no need for facts, let's just take these assumptions on faith. By the way, amoung these "notable exceptions" are such little known media outlets as the BBC, which ran the Iranian side of the argument and Mr. Murray's statement, which Ms. Heard is so fond of. Of course, how it is a fact that Iran is not a rogue state run by irrational individuals is beyond me (or any other open minded individual too). Perhaps it isn't, but if you really are keeping an open mind, as you just urged us to two paragraphs ago, then you cannot say that there is no evidence for this proposition.

For the sake of balance, let's hypothetically suppose the Iranians are correct in their contention. In that case, all Downing Street had to do was admit their chaps had made a genuine mistake and apologise when presumably we'd now be saying all's well that ends well.

What balance? When have you looked at the evidence on the other side? Look, if you want to believe that there is no chance that the British position on this is correct, be honest about it and drop the [expletive] neutral posturing.

But instead Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair came out swinging making threats of imposing sanctions and restrictions on Iranians, and appealing to the US, the EU, the UN and Nato to turn the screws.

This is just bad writing. I have had people come out swinging on me and I have had people make threats to me. They are not the same thing. I'm guessing that even Ms. Heard would acknowledge that she would have people make threats to her than to swing at her.

One of Britain's main beefs is the way that its naval personnel were "paraded" on television and in the case of Faye Turley forced to write pro-Iranian "propaganda" letters to her family. There was much huffing and puffing about the Geneva Conventions, which do, indeed, stipulate that prisoners of war must not be made objects of curiosity.

Actually, I thought the main beef was that their Marines and Sailors where taken in Iraqi territorial waters. I guess Ms. Heard missed that part. (And if you get a feeling that Ms. Heard will find a way to argue against the Geneva Convention, you have been paying attention.)

In essence, no one can argue with this from a legal standpoint...

Wait, I'm wrong, she isn't, because no one can argue with this. Whew, what a relief.

...except to say members of the crew are not prisoners of war because Britain and Iran are not in a state of war. But let's not be overly pedantic.

In truth, Britain's association with the US has caused it to lose any moral platform on this issue it might otherwise have had. America - and, by default Britain - shredded the Geneva Conventions when it opened Guantanamo and authorised rendition of detainees to countries where interrogators aren't squeamish about using electrodes.

Yes, let's not be overly pedantic. Because if we were, we would also have to point out that the US "opened" Guantanamo (a naval base in Cuba) in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War; how exactly this would constitute "shredding" the Geneva Conventions is not clear, especially on the part of Britain.

We also would have to point out how the vast majority of those captured and reportedly abused by the US and the UK do not qualify as prisoners of war (Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention, which defines Prison of War, is here); that the Iranians, even at the time that this article was written, were violating the Geneva Conventions a little more severely than just parading them before the cameras; and that these Marines and Sailors did qualify as Prisoners of War, since they were "Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict" (3rd Geneva Convention, Article 4.1.1). (Despite the fact that POW has "war" in it, it doesn't have to be a state of war, just a conflict. If Tony Blair asking international organizations for sanctions constitutes "coming out swinging" then surely even Ms. Heard can see that training machine guns on the crews of these boats was a conflict). But by all means, let's not be overly pedantic.

When Blair has remained virtually silent on those illegal practices how can he in all good conscience complain when his own people are televised, not hooded, chained or shackled but heartily tucking in to a meal.

How can Ms. Heard complain about those illegal practices while remaining virtually silent on the violations of the Iranians?

History tells us that we would do well not to jump to conclusions.

So why do you keep doing it?

On Sunday, July 2, 1988, an Iranian commercial flight was shot down by a Navy guided missile cruiser the USS Vincennes, which was four kilometres inside Iranian waters.

The US government said it had mistakenly identified the passenger aircraft as a fighter plane and insisted their ship had not trespassed. The then president of the US, George H.W. Bush, refused to apologise saying "I will never apologise for the United States - I don't care what the facts are".

Three years later, Admiral William J. Crowe admitted to Nightline that the Vincennes had been in violation of Iranian territory when it shot down the plane.

All correct. The US should have apologized for this incident. We were completely, absolutely, 100% in the wrong. President Bush was a jerk for saying that.

But if we are looking to history for lessons here, is there anything in the past that might make us think that the Iranians would, say, violate the sovereign territory of another country and illegally hold that nation's diplomatic personnel for 444 days? If perhaps we can think of such an event, would that perhaps tell us something about the odds of them grabbing this sailors and marines and holding them illegally?

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