The United States have killed so many innocent civilians in Afghanistan that nobody will ever know all their stories. There is a line running from genuine accident in the fog of war, to carelessness, through callous disregard of life to deliberate murder. There is a real sense in which it makes no difference to the dead civilian where their killing sits on the line. The six boys under 11 years old killed this month by an aerial attack when out gathering firewood are every bit as dead as the 13 year old boy in one of the trophy photos now released by Der Spiegel.
There is something very vile in the culture of the US military, of which this is but one symptom. I won’t say much, as I feel more grief than anger just at the moment. But I leave you these truths. It is more common for US soldiers to possess such trophy photos, than it is for those trophy photos to be exposed to an international magazine. And it is a great deal more common for US soldiers to murder from the enjoyment of their absolute power of life and death, than it is for them to incriminate themselves by recording the event.
The Obama administration has, rightly, been paying at least lip service to the primary of international law in the limitation of military action in Libya to conform with the provisions of SCR 1973.
Here is a still more fundamental piece of international law – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. It is in itself a high point of human achievement, and it is worth reading from time to time. Consider this in particular:
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
In directly contravenng Clause 4 of Article 23, the government of Wisconsin is not only attacking its own workforce, it is attacking the very essence of human dignity and the achievement of ordinary people in obtaining a right to it. There is no doubt that in the second half of the twentieth century labour unions grew into over-centralised, undemocratic and corrupt institutions. Those evils can be regulated away. But removing the right of individual workers to combine to negotiate the price of thier labour is a much greater evil.
It was possible for liberals to believe – I believed it – thirty years ago that capitalism as a system naturally ameliorates and moves everybody towards the middle class, reducing extremes of wealth and poverty as capitalism matured. But since then, the gap between the very wealthy and the ordinary working man has increased exponentially. Those providing financial and other middleman servies are disproportionately rewarded, and those who labour to manufacture or provide physical services are increasingly impoverished, abused and unprotected. The public services are one of the few areas where rapacious neo-liberal practices of exploiting, abusing and discarding labour still met any, though reducing, resistance. The propaganda against human rights in Wisconsin has, as as one of its more evil elements, an appeal to those already abased, to drag down those who can to some extent be portrayed as having to some extent escaped.
But it would be quite wrong to portray this attack as led just by the Republicans. Obama has notably refused to do anything to counter the wave of hatred towards employees, organised and financed by corporate America. Obama himself is notably failing in his duty to live up to the following paragraph of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
The degrading treatment of suspected whistleblower Bradley Manning is a further example of US contempt for human rights – as is what happens to those who seek to protest about it. I was struck to see this picture of my friend Dan Ellsberg flash up on Sky News.
A couple of weeks ago, while this blog was down for remont, another of my friends, Ray McGovern, was arrested for the new crime of wearing a Veterans for Peace T shirt at a Hillary Clinton meeting. She was talking at the time, with no apparent sense of irony, about the right to protest in the Middle East. Just before the camera cuts to Ray, you can see her smirk as she sees him manhandled.
The next time I share a platform with Ray and Dan, I shall feel that they have been paying their dues for freedom more than I. But I have an excuse for not getting arrested. I have been most of the time in Ghana, which respects human rights, whereas they are in the United States, which does not.