The Turkel Commission Endorses Law of the Jungle

Palestine Chronicle (January 24, 2011), Foreign Policy Journal (January 25, 2011), CounterPunch (January 27, 2011)

Now this is the Law of the Jungle—as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back—
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

––Rudyard Kipling, The Law of the Jungle, 1894

Tales of oppressors and oppressed abound in human folklore. According to one, there in the Valley of Outlaws was an unfortunate village traumatized by a marauder and a handful in his band. That democracy ruled the flock was their favorite boast and that no outsider was allowed to join them was their absolute insistence. The chief had long proclaimed that everything outside the flock was theirs –– so God had willed, he claimed. Hence his men will take it all one by one. Armed with lethal weapons the marauding gang frequently attacked the village on the edge of the Valley. The raiders destroyed the villagers’ crops, looted and burned their property, violated the dignity of women, did not spare children playing hide and seek in orchards. Drunk with power, carrying guns and swords, the band of outlaws inflicted a reign of terror on the villagers by day, even more by night. Those brave enough to complain and lucky enough to reach the powers that be promptly found the judge to be from the pack. The outcome was predictable. The complainant had no chance.

Then there are episodes in recorded history that depict man’s cruelty against fellow humans. Harvey Newbranch, in a powerful editorial published in the Omaha Evening World-Herald in 1920, decried the lynching of a black man outside the Douglas County Courthouse. “The lack of efficient government in Omaha, the lack of governmental foresight and sagacity and energy, made the exhibition possible,” said Newbranch. “It was provided by a few hundred hoodlums, most of them mere boys, organized as the wolf-pack is organized, inflamed by the spirit of anarchy and license, of plunder and destruction.” Further Newbranch observed in his editorial, “Ten thousand or more good citizens, without leadership, without organization, without public authority that had made an effort to organize them for the anticipated emergency, were obliged to stand as onlookers, shamed in their hearts, and witness the hideous orgy of lawlessness.”

The spirit of Newbranch’s editorial rested in a sentence in which he said that “there is the rule of the jungle in this world, and there is the rule of law.” However we still live in a world where the rule of law is nothing but the rule of the jungle.

The report by Israel’s Turkel Commission endorsing the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in international waters in May 2010 was entirely predictable. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed the Commission against worldwide protests two weeks after the killing of nine Turkish activists on board the lead ship the Mavi Marmara. The flotilla was on the open sea as it approached Gaza, its one-and-a-half million population living under an Israeli blockade. In setting up the Commission, the Israeli government rejected calls from the United Nations and governments for an international inquiry. The Commission’s members were all Israeli, with two observers, the Northern Ireland Protestant politician David Trimble and Brigadier General Ken Watkin, former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces. News organizations described them both as “friends of Israel.” Even so, Trimble and Watkin had no right to vote on the Commission’s conclusions, making the inquiry an all-Israeli affair. The inquiry was to look into a bloody event that occurred well outside the domain of Israeli law in international waters. Still in Washington, officials of the Obama administration leapt to assert that Israel had the right and the competence to hold such an inquest.

The Israeli government will feel that the Turkel report has served its immediate need for a basis to counter the hostile world opinion. Prime Minister Netanyahu will be relieved at Turkel’s findings: the Israeli military’s interception and capture of the vessels in the flotilla conformed with international law; in most cases the use of force also complied with international law; Israeli commandos acted professionally; and the Israeli blockade of Gaza is legal, there is no violation of humanitarian law. What else could Netanyahu have wished for? Nonetheless glaring oddities haunt the credibility of Turkel and Israel. Those who were traveling on the Mavi Marmara have numerous accounts of brutality committed by Israeli commandos to tell. There is enough film footage to reveal the behavior of Israeli soldiers during the operation. Yet the Turkel inquiry was barred from questioning the soldiers who took part in the operation, exposing its one-sided character. Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan of Turkey has led the criticism of the Turkel report saying it had “no value or credibility.”

This is a return to the Law of the Jungle in the twenty-first century, where might is right. Attacking the young and the old, the frail and the sick, male or female in open sea––legal. Axes, clubs, iron bars, slingshots and metal objects are weapons. “In the face of extensive and anticipated violence,” using one of the world’s most advanced military forces to neutralize activists ––self-defense. The soldiers’ conduct -– professional and reasonable. Never mind worldwide condemnation. Law is merely a tool. We are back to medieval barbarism where it is a crime to be an underdog and the victim is responsible for what has happened.

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Q&A: History News Network

HNN (January 13, 2011)

You’ve worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a BBC correspondent. How does the Afghanistan of today compare to the pre-civil war Afghanistan of 1978?

Before the 1978 communist coup which triggered the war, Afghanistan was fairly quiet and, especially for foreign visitors, very safe. People were hospitable. It was a desperately poor country, but people went about their day-to-day living. The king had been overthrown by his cousin, but Afghanistan was in practice ruled by the royals.

So what happened? Did the Soviet invasion cause the subsequent thirty-odd years of unrest, or did it uncork simmering problems in Afghan society?

In broad terms, internal disturbance began with the overthrow of the king by his cousin, who was a modernizer and didn’t like the king’s non-interventionist approach. His coup began internal feuds among factions.

Young, relatively educated, communists were among them. But the 1978 coup by pro-Soviet army officers triggered internal strife and greater Soviet intervention. It was to save the communist regime that was deeply unpopular and collapsing that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979.

Where does Islamist ideology enter the picture?

I said earlier that there were factions during the king’s cousin, Mohammad Daud’s rule from 1973 to 1978. His vigorous drive for modernization brought Islamist groups to the fore to oppose him.

But we must always remember, Afghanistan is a deeply religious country, although historically Afghan society was heavily influenced by the most liberal of the Muslim sects, the Hanafi sect. However, with conflict escalating moderation declined.

Tell us a bit about the Hanafi sect—I’ve never heard of them before.

The Hanafi sect is based on local practical considerations to find resolutions to local problems. Hanafis have tended to favor social harmony. It was because of this moderation that followers of other religions—Hindus, Buddhists in particular, lived in peace. Hindu merchants in Kabul, a tiny minority, were quite powerful. When I was in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, I went to Afghan Hindu money changers. However, with the Soviet invasion and American help to mujahideen groups, which incidentally began under the Carter administration in mid-1979, and then under the Regan administration from January 1981, Arab fighters began to arrive to confront the Soviet occupation forces, the nature of Afghan society began to change dramatically and violently.

Why did the Soviets make the decision to invade? More specifically, who within the Soviet government was an advocate of invasion and who was opposed?

I explain in my book Breeding Ground the long sequence of events. In brief, there is evidence that the Soviets were deeply unhappy with factionalism in Afghanistan’s communist regime, which is to say the government after the 1978 coup. And the Afghan communist regime’s brutal suppression of opposition made it increasingly unpopular. The communists tried to impose Stalinist land reforms. This was at a time in the late 1970s when Stalinism was completely out of fashion within the Kremlin. In short, the Soviets in the end invaded after some reluctance and long reflection to protect communism at the helm in Kabul but without the Stalinist ruler Hafizullah Amin, who was assassinated in the December 1979 coup by the Soviets. They installed a puppet, Babrak Karmal, but he had his own problems, including the perception of being a Soviet puppet.

Did religiously-motivated resistance to the invasion begin immediately?

Almost immediately, because the Soviets were seen not only as foreign invaders but infidels, non-believers. This is very offensive to most Afghans. However, as I discuss in Breeding Ground, the involvement of Pakistani and Saudi Islamist extremists, as well as Afghan extremist groups like Gulbuddin Hikmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami, the picture began to change. Islamic fighters, among them there was one Osama bin Laden, began to arrive to fight alongside Afghan mujahideen. The American administration and the Saudis, Egyptians and the Chinese, all formed an anti-Soviet alliance. While these external players gave money and weapons, even copies of the Quran among mujahideen fighters, the actual job of training and distributing weapons was outsourced to the Pakistani military ruler General Zia-ul Haq and Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI.

How important was this Pakistani support in the 1980s, and how important is Pakistani support to the Taliban (and other insurgent groups) today?

In the 1980s it was vital. Otherwise, the United States could never have fought the proxy war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. America’s recruitment of General Zia as the foremost ally, in return for military and economic aid—and respectability, no less important for Zia, played a big role, too. As for now, the Taliban represent two distinct phenomena—one in Pakistan itself; the other, the Afghan Taliban have their top leadership in Pakistan’s tribal belt. Pakistan’s tacit approval of their stay in the tribal belt, and possible support by some sections of the Pakistani military intelligent service, the ISI, play a very important role. I should say in conclusion here that from the Pakistani ruling military/political elite’s geopolitical point of view, support for the Afghan Taliban seems rational. It is a tragedy that this strategy has brought disastrous results in the long term.

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