International

Catalogue of debacle comes to an unseemly end

Nobody can now claim that any part of the war in Iraq has been anything but a disaster. The invasion based on faulty intelligence, the hundreds of thousands of dead, the inability of Western powers to extricate themselves militarily. The one bright star — for war apologists — was the capture and trial of Saddam Hussein. Echoing Nuremberg, the trial was to demonstrate the absolute justice in Hussein’s removal from power, and, by extension, the rightness of the American cause.

The jury may well still be (paradoxically) out on the quality of justice during the trial. We should not forget the lawyers who were murdered for defending him. Saddam Hussein was certainly an utterly despicable man. This does not justify flawed justice.

However, the manner of his execution, and the subsequent attack by Mr Maliki on Westerners who have dared to question it, has demonstrated that, in the removal of Saddam, we have not advanced Iraq. Rather, we have handed over power from one ethnic group to another. True, Mr Maliki is no Saddam Hussain. But, equally, he has now publicly stated that he does not want to continue in his job, and that he would stop early if he could.

Even in Mr Malki, though, there is a chilling tone of totalitarianism: “The decision was implemented after a just trial which the dictator did not deserve as the crimes he committed against the people, the country and its institutions were disgraceful,” he said. As soon as we deem one class of criminal to ‘not deserve a fair trial’, we have abandoned the most fundamental principle of modern jurisprudence: that all are equal under the law.

Finally, the results are in: Iraq was a false prospectus

BBC NEWS | World | Americas | ‘No Saddam link to Iraq al-Qaeda’
Finally, three years after the events, the US has admitted that there was in fact no link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Bush’s axis of evil is now proved to be what we have said all along: nothing more than an axis of Bush family unfinished business.
Nobody would deny that Saddam Hussein was a bad man.
Nobody is denying that the Iraqi people would probably have been better off without him.
But, equally, no-one can seriously claim that our and the American’s adventure in Mesopotamia has done anyone any good.

Saddam Hussein is now standing trial for the deaths of 100,000 Kurds in 1988. By 31 August this year, the campaign group Iraq Body Count put the total number of reported civilan deaths in Iraq at between 39,171 and 43,846 (Iraq Body Count). But even by October 2004, a study in the Lancet suggested that there were 100,000 extra deaths in Iraq. Both the UK and US governments have admitted that the chaotic situation in Iraq makes it impossible to gather information accurately.

39,000. Or 44,000. Or 100,000. Or more.

What price freedom?

Birmingham Raid uncovers tip of the iceberg

Yesterday’s raid on a Sauna in Birmingham uncovered the tip of the iceberg of the UK’s sex-trafficking industry. 19 women were rescued from allegedly forced prostitution, from Greece, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Poland and Turkey.

The Birmingham police deserve every congratulation for facing up to the situation and taking action. But there is far, far more to be done.

The UN estimates that 5 million women and children are trafficked each year. This means that every three years, as many people are sold in slavery in the modern world as were sold during the 315 of the Atlantic slave trade. Nobody knows how many are trafficked in the UK each year — itself a damning indictment of our failure to begin to tackle the problem.

Key factors in the growth of sex trafficking in Britain include the following. First, in tackling prostitution our legal system has tended to penalise sex-workers while failing to go after pimps, and doing little to discourage the clients. Secondly, the growing tolerance for building-based prostitution creates an environment where traffickers can easily control their victims. Third, the UK heavily penalises people who are illegally in this country, even where they are victims of human trafficking. Chillingly, in yesterday’s raid, several of the girls are being held by police while their immigration status is checked. However, the most important factor is a failure by local authorities and central government to take the issue seriously.

While working for charity I was involved in counselling and assisting victims of sex-trafficking in Belgium. It is a long and depressingly fragile process. Belgium has a bad track record for its toleration of this industry. But it has developed some effective support mechanisms for victims, which we would do well to emulate in Britain. There are systems in place for victims to gain immigration status, and help mechanisms to assist them into social housing, language learning and the social security network. All these are missing in Britain.

Ultimately, the Belgian approach is based on the acceptance that sex-trafficking is a crime perpetrated on the victims by Belgian society. It is therefore for Belgian society to redress it.

For as long as we continue to penalise victims, with the occasional foray against the perpetrators to salve our conscience, we in Britain will continue to nurture the conditions which make this trade flourish.

And that is sickening.

The terrorists failed

BBC NEWS | UK | London bombs killed ‘at least 50’

The nation mourns as the predicted death toll from yesterday’s bombing is expected to reach fifty.

And yet, and yet. The atrocity has failed to scar our national psyche. The government is not set to fall. The stock market closed at barely below the limits of normal trading. London is coming back to life. Hospitals were able to cope with the situation.

We are shocked, but we are not terrified. We mourn, but our national resolve is strengthened.

The terrorists have achieved nothing of any worth to themselves. Instead they have revealed that their reach is shortened, and their planning weak. They have done nothing to disrupt the G8 summit. All they have done is to unite the leaders and raise Tony Blair’s reputation as a statesman. They failed to capitalise on the moments of national celebration %u2014 Live8 and the Olympic Games %u2014 where they might have done so much more damage.

There will be lasting repercussions. Families are without fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children. Colleagues will look at empty chairs, and remember. Lives have been cut off short. Survivors will face weeks, months, years or a lifetime of injuries.

Let the murderers take these on their consciences for the rest of their lives.

But in terrorising Britain, they have failed.

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