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The British queen and 60 years of war crimes

Elizabeth has reigned for 60 years yet no one has asked her role or knowledge in British actions
Elizabeth has reigned for 60 years yet no one has asked her role or knowledge in British actions

A recent article in highlights the criminal nature of Tony Blair and his term in office. Writes, John Pilger: "[Gareth] Peirce's book achieves the impossible on Blair: it shocks. In tracing the "unjustifiable theses, unrestrained belligerence, falsification and willful illegality" that led to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, she identifies Blair's assault on Muslims as both criminal and racist."

This criminal nature is not controversial except to mainstream media and apologists for power and war, for whom any means justify the ends.

While the article presents the agreed-upon facts of the matter of Blair, it omits entirely the nature of the British government and its particular fashion of wielding power against growing majorities - often active majorities.

The British prime minister wields powers none of his contemporaries have.

Recall, for example, that the anti-war members of Blair's own Labour Party had to ask his permission to debate the oncoming war against Iraq in the House of Commons. It was up to Blair whether to consent to have this debate or ignore his rank-and-file altogether.

This illustrates a bit about power in Great Britain, and it should be understood. The British prime minister possesses powers no other democratic leader wields.

Certain dissenting voices have critiqued this power, but they have predictably been marginalized. Political activists, like Tony Benn and Willie Hamilton, have focused on the root of the British decay.

The decay, the root of this power is the monarchy.

During that chapter in British history known as the interregnum, after a 17th century civil war and one king had his head cut off for a commoner to head a republic, activists were already agitating for a true democracy where they'd be ruled by neither a king nor by Parliament. These activists must have realized that killing God's alleged representative on earth did not send them straight to Hell. So they were safe to push the issue of throwing off all yokes and chains.

Now, these activists wanted more. And this agitation scared some Hell into the ruling classes, who trusted neither the army or Parliament to close ranks and save the nation for the upper classes.

So the monarchy was duly restored. It was the one institution immune from public scrutiny. Widening parts of the electorate could influence Parliament. More and more working-class men could enter the armed forces. So these institutions were not entirely trustworthy.

But the monarchy was for a select, insulated, inbred few.

Which takes us back to this recent article in Truthout, and other articles like it in progressive circles. These articles correctly go so far as to call Tony Blair a war criminal, but I can find none which dare to say the same of the Queen, to implicate her, or the "constitutional monarchy" that Britain is.

That calling the Queen a war criminal, suggesting she be at least subpoenaed, seems beyond the pale is exactly the point. The PR in royalty's favor has charmed us.

But were this a rogue regime from the Axis of Evil, with a monarch at its head, the Queen - like Germany's kaiser or Japan's emperor - would not be overlooked as a charming relic or a figurehead. There would be interest in her involvement, investigations, what she knew and when she knew it. Etc.

I suspect that even among many Western progressives there is a powerful spell upon them: all that glistens must be gold. I daresay a bit of old fashioned reverse racism is at heart too.

Elizabeth Windsor has held the position of queen of the United Kingdom for 60 years now. This is the cause of celebration in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. But it should also be a cause for inquiry.

Every prime minister has kept their conversations with the monarch secret, but they have at the same time acknowledged she is informed of everything, that all secret papers are funneled through her desk for review, that no law becomes a law until the queen signs it.

"The Queen received all Foreign Office telegrams and papers," Labour historian Ben Pimlott quotes an official. "And so in some ways she was better informed in advance of the operation than many members of the Cabinet."

So what did Tony Blair tell his queen in the lead up to the war, about weapons of mass destruction or extraordinary rendition or torture?

These are the sort of questions a trial or truth commission might ferret out. But they would not end with the UK involvement in the war in Iraq.

In her 60 years as unelected head of state, from 1952, a lot of other international crimes have been committed. Britain can ostensibly decide its own form of government, so being an unelected head of state is as much its own business as having unelected institutions in the US control our economy, which should be our cause for alarm and agitation.

The crime is what the UK does outside its defined borders. The crime is what it does to others. And these crimes have been significant.

Here is a sample, taken from Marxist historian Walter Rodney, Ben Pimlott, J.M. Roberts, and from Intervention and Exploitation: US and UK Government International Actions since 1945:

Kenya: 1952-1956
A liberation campaign is launched by the Mau Mau. The British response is "to close the 149 schools of the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association, 21 schools of the Kikuyu Karinga Education Association, and 14 other independent schools." "They were," writes historian Walter Rodney, "considered training grounds for rebellion." The British then impose a state of emergency and brutally suppress the Mau Mau. ,British forces conduct human rights atrocities, establish Nazi-style concentration camps and ‘resettle’ hundreds of thousands of people in ‘protected villages’. Around 150,000 Africans die.

Guyana: 1953
October - Britain suspends Guyana's constitution. "The People's Progressive Party," writes Rodney, "was the first mass party in Guyana and it was also a multi-racial party. It was at that time the only pparty in the West Indies which had any pretensions about having a scientific socialist outlook or Marxist outlook or working-class outlook." Predictably, he notes, the PPP came into "conflict" with its British imperial masters, so Britain sends in troops and installs an interim administration after democratic elections for parliament produces a result not to its liking.

Libya: 1953
December 7 - Britain imposes military bases in Libya for a period of 20 years, ostensibly in return for economic subsidies, which never reach the people but prop up an Arab facade.

Egypt: 1956-1957
"The British, French, and Israelis conspire to overthrow [Gamel Abdel Nasser] in the Suez adveture, the last fling of old-style imperialism," according to historian J.M. Roberts. The incident is notable also because in the frenzy to dispatch troops to Egypt, the British prime minister had to get the signed approval of the Queen. According to historian Ben Pimlott, "the hastily prepared Proclamation" was given to her for signature while she was away at a horse race. "Her approval was required before it could be read out in the House of Commons the same afternoon."

In the wake of the failed Suez invasion, MI6 (Britain's spy service) plans and carries out several assassination attempts against Pres. Gamel Abdel Nasser. The US were also involved, recruiting the Saudis and Iraq to help them. Britain had already made plans to assassinate Nasser, even before he nationalized the Suez Canal.

Yemen: 1959
Federation of Arab Amirates of the South created as an autonomous territory under British protection. Britain occupied parts of Yemen in 1837, the year Victoria became queen.

Guyana: 1961
Despite a campaign against the PPP by the Guyanese elites and the churches, PPP organizes gains ground. Guyana is granted internal self governance, with Britain retaining control over external and defense matters; Chetti Jagan of the PPP becomes prime minister.

Kenya: 1961
The British are forced to introduce a new policy which allows Africans to buy and farm the White Highlands. Kenya's first pre-independence general elections are held. The KANU defeat the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). The KADU (led by Masinde Muliro, Daniel Arap Moi, and Ronald Ngala) represents smaller and less advantaged ethnic groups of the Great Rift Valley and coastal areas, including the Kalenjin. The KADU advocated Majimboism (regionalism in Swahili) which would create ethnic-based, semi-autonomous regions.

The KADU had been formed with the covert assistance of the British government and British businesses, in an effort to get a more 'moderate' government after independence. The British stopped supporting it when they saw it could not beat the KANU.

By selling at a high price the land previously seized by the white settlers, not only do the settlers make a great deal of money, but it is ensured that the land passes into the hands of a either wealthy individuals who will protect European business interests or people trapped by the debts they incur in borrowing money to buy the land.

Guyana: 1962
The US concludes that Dr. Jagan is a Communist and although all alternatives to Dr. Jagan are terrible, the US backs Jagan's opponent under an independent British [sic] Guyana, which would cause the U.S. fewer problems than a government under Dr. Jagan.

Jagan announces a budget which is widely praised by international commentators, but the opposition condemn it and use it as an excuse to incite violent protests. The opposition is supported by local labor organizations who receive support from certain US union groups funded by the CIA. The British Governor-General initially refuses to send troops to quell the disturbances, but eventually does so after arson, looting and deaths in the capital. Jagan is forced to withdraw the budget.

Yemen: 1962
MI6 begin covertly providing arms, funding, and logistical support to pro-British "rebels" in dirty war against pro-Egyptian republican forces. In this the Briitsh government colludes with Israel's Mossad and the Saudi regime. Around 200,000 die in the war.

Yemen: 1963
Britain rejects a UN call for it to withdraw and permit self-determination.

Australia: 1975

The government of prime minister Gough Whitlam is plagued by resignations and the blocking of its budget by the upper house of the parliament. In an unprecedented move, the UK governor-general, the official representative of the British queen, dismisses the Whitlam and the government. A caretaker administration is installed.

The speaker of the Australian House of Commons writes to the Queen to ask her to restore Whitlam to office, but she declines to intervene, saying it is not proper for her to do so.

It later transpires that the CIA had apparently encouraged Kerr to dismiss Whitlam, because he was raising issues about the the US running a control center for spy satellites in the Australian outback, amongst other things.

The Falkland Islands [The Malvinas]: 1982

Even after the UK claimed sovereignty over the islands in 1833, Argentina contested this. In 1982, the military junta of Argentina seized the island - which lay just off its coast - prompting the British to send in warships and wage a 74-day battle. The British re-took the islands, but to this day Argentina disputes this.

When then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher went to the Queen to send troops, Parliament was only notified afterward.

Ireland. A pope gave Ireland to Henry VII, and tried to take it away when Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic church. Nevertheless, the UK has held all or part of the island ever since the 15th century, culminating in the "Troubles" of the 1970's.

What is notable is the steady decline of British mischief, which roughly corresponds to its stature as an imperial power. What has not declined, even in an age of greater indifference to the monarchy, greater press scrutiny of all things official, less deferential treatment of our "betters" is the hands-off treatment the British monarchy is given. The International Criminal Court readily indicts Gaddafi and wants his son for questioning, but nothing of British crimes or wanting answers from its high officials, like the queen.

This is comparable to the hands-off treatment our own US press give our own unelected power brokers and the deferential treatment afforded our financial centers, which is corrupting.

The British prime minister is allowed powers most democratically elected presidents are forbidden. Its actions and its crimes are, like the queen, "above politics" and outside public scrutiny. It is allowed these powers because it is said to act on behalf of the monarch, whose powers are nearly absolute: war, peace, treaties, etc.

This is exactly what those 17th century ruling classes wanted after the interregnum, an unchecked power to act on its behalf and for its profit. It is not only important to understand who rules Britain [or any modern state] but also how power is distributed and to whom it is accountable.

In 1992 the Queen said "No institution: city, monarchy, whatever should expect to be free of the scrutiny of those who give it their loyalty and support, not to mention those who don't."


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