Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Legal or not?

In my post Refugees, Migrants and Terrorists, I talked about the British citizens who have left this country and made their way to Syria to fight alongside the jihadists of ISIS, and now two of them have hit the news having been killed.

It would appear that Reyaad Khan, originally from Cardiff and Ruhul Amin, originally from Aberdeen were hit and killed during a precision airstrike by a Royal Air Force drone near Raqqa in Syria on August 21st.  Both had been raised in the UK and both had then travelled to join ISIS.  There is also no doubt about whether or not they were radicalised and had joined ISIS as both had appeared in a propaganda/recruiting video released by ISIS in June 2014 and entitled “There is No Life Without Jihad”.

However, it would appear that rather than the political response being “two terrorists killed, oh dear, how sad, never mind”, there has been a big outcry by certain politicians about whether their deaths are actually legal or not.

The whole argument seems to rest on whether the killing of these two should be classed as extra-judicial killings or not.  At that time that it was announced in ParliamentDavid Cameron, the British Prime Minister, stated that the reason that this airstrike had been carried out was that British Security Services had discovered that Khan, the target of the attack, was plotting to carry out attacks on British soil, particularly against "high-profile public commemorations” that were taking place during the summer.  Amin was killed as he was in the same vehicle as Khan at the time of the strike.  The fact that Khan was plotting terror attacks in the UK, Mr Cameron argued, made the strike justified on the grounds of self-defence.

However, in 2013, the British Parliament voted against strikes in Syria, and there are many who believe that this action, because it was carried out inside Syria, not only ignores the wishes of parliament but also suggests that the British Government feels that it has the right to carry out killings of British citizens that may pose a threat to the UK, even if they travel abroad.  Furthermore, there has been criticism that this drone strike mirrors the US policy, one which some American officials believe has failed.  On top of this, friends of the Khan family have also come forward to demand the “truth of the incident”.

So where does the Government stand legally?  It would appear that the strike was carried out following advice from the Attorney GeneralJeremy Wright, which stated that the strike was legal.  But the ex-Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, believes that the decision may be open to challenge.  In fact, one person whom I heard on the Radio 4 Today programme last Tuesday (not sure who it was although it may have been Dominic Grieve) stated that he believed that the family may well be able to sue the Government.

The British Government’s justification for the strikes rests on Article 51 of the United Nations Charter which provides the right of a country to act in self-defence against an armed attack, which it is claimed that Khan was actively plotting to carry out.  But there has also been a slight distraction from this, which those who feel that the strike was not justified have cited. Matthew Rycroft, the British Ambassador to the United Nations, has written to the United Nations Security Council justifying the strike on the grounds that it was part of the collective defence of Iraq.  This has been approved by Parliament, as in September 2014 British MPs, although voting against strikes in Syria a year earlier, voted to approve air strikes by British Forces against ISIS targets in Iraq.  The detractors have therefore claimed that the Government is altering its legal justification for the strike because the initial justification was not legal.

For most people the fact that these two terrorists, for that is what they were as members of a terrorist organisation, were killed whist thousands of miles away in Syria means nothing.  If it prevents acts of terror being carried out in this country, marvellous. 

I am aware that there will be people who believe that they should have been apprehended and brought back to this country to face a legal trial, but the possibility of that happening was extremely unlikely.  When dealing with ISIS, we are not dealing with rational people; we are dealing with religious zealots who believe that they are justified in cutting the heads off people who don’t follow the same religion as them, or even the same branch of the same religion.  They do not follow the rule of International Law and are certainly not signatories to the Geneva Conventions, so anyone entering Syria to try and apprehend these people can be certain that, if unsuccessful and caught by these barbarians, they will find themselves being publicly murdered in some unspeakable way, as happened with Muath al-Kasasbeh, the Jordanian pilot.

The British Government has found itself in a very difficult position.  It is being criticised for killing these two, but what would have happened if this step hadn’t been taken, there had been an atrocity carried out in the UK and it had later emerged that the Government not only knew where the perpetrator was, but had had the opportunity to stop him and hadn’t?  There would, rightly, have been a huge outcry.

As for the family suing, I think that this is ridiculous.  There has been much made by friends of the Khan family about how Reyaad Khan was a “straight A” student who wanted to be the first Asian Prime Minister, but they have said very little about his Twitter boasts of taking part in mass executions.  If they hadn’t wanted him to get killed, perhaps they should have spent more time preventing him from becoming radicalised in the first place. 

One person I know has suggested that rather than the family suing the Government, perhaps it should be the other way round, with the Government recouping the cost of drone fuel, the pilot’s wages and ordnance used etc. from the family.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Road Trip

Five weeks ago, Emma and I had a bit of a road trip.  It was something that we had initially planned back in March, and when we did, it had seemed months away, but it came around really quick.

The idea was that we would go to Edinburgh and see the Royal International Tattoo, which was something that both Emma and I had always wanted to see.  The other thing with this trip is that it would be me returning to the City of my birth for the first time since I left at about four months old.

However, it is quite a drive from Kent (we had decided to drive as it would cost us less in petrol than the nearly £150 each that the train fare would cost!), so we decided that we would do it in stages, driving to Leeds on the Monday, continuing to Edinburgh on the Tuesday, and coming back after a two-night stay in Auld Reekie on the Thursday, with a two-night stay in York to break up the journey.

The journey to Leeds was fairly uneventful, but because we didn’t leave until later than we had planned, we didn’t arrive there until the late afternoon.  The hotel that we stayed in was one that I had stayed in a couple of years ago when I had gone to Leeds for a Resuscitation Council conference.  When I had stayed the first time, it was called Bewley’s, but it is now under new management and called The Clayton Hotel.

We had a quick bimble around the area near the hotel, not that there was a lot to see, but we had decided to eat at the hotel rather than eating out, which was definitely a good idea. The food that we had was both very good and inexpensive, and I would recommend the hotel.

On the Tuesday, began the next phase of the trip.  In addition, there was someone who I’d served with in Iraq who I knew lived near Edinburgh, whom I hadn't seen for about ten years, so I had suggested that we meet up and he invited us to dinner.

The journey to Scotland was quite slow, and there seemed to be an awful lot of road works, but we arrived at about 3pm and found the hotel, Pirie’s Hotel, which was located quite close to Haymarket and a couple of miles from Princes Street.  So, once we’d settled into our room we decided to go exploring and walk towards the Castle.

Ok, so we became a little geographically challenged but we managed to find the Castle, Princes Street, which was very busy as we were in the City at the same time as The Fringe, and even found our way back to the hotel (although I did cheat, as I knew the trams went to Haymarket, so it was just a case of following the tram tracks from Princes Street) in time to shower and change before driving out to Patch’s in Auchterarder.

Like me, Patch is an Army Reservist, but an Officer in the Royal Artillery rather than the AMS, but he had been attached to the medical unit that I was with in Iraq.  Dinner was fabulous and a pleasant evening was had by (hopefully) all, and we were given some recommendations of places to go/things to see in Edinburgh.

The following day, after breakfast, became somewhat surreal, as we drove out to the Oxgangs part of Edinburgh and to the house that I had lived in immediately after I was born.  The quarter in which we had lived had been knocked through to the one next door and was now the Welfare Office.  With Emma's encouragement, I went in, introduced myself and explained why I was there. The lady was extremely helpful and allowed me to go out into the back garden to take some pictures as well as giving me the guided tour of what had been my first home.  And that was the surreal part, as the last time that I had been in that house was 48 years ago, with my mum and dad, neither of whom are with us anymore.

We then drove back into Edinburgh and did a bit more exploring of the shops on the Royal Mile, before the highlight so far for Emma, which was our tour of Mary King's Close.

After heading back to the hotel and changing, we then got a taxi to dinner at a restaurant called Il Castello in Castle Terrace, after which we walked up Johnston Terrace and found our seats for the Tattoo.

The Tattoo was very good, the highlight for Emma being the Top Secret Drum Corps from Basel in Switzerland, although I thought that all of the "acts" were equally as good, and the nearly two hours of the show flew past.

On the Thursday was the next long trek, this time to York, which we made good time, arriving in the early afternoon and booking into the York Pavillion Hotel.  After settling in, we then made our way into York, meeting up with our friends Barry and Anna, before grabbing some food and settling into an evening of cocktail drinking.

The next day became a museum day, as it was hammering it down all day.  In the morning we visited the National Railway Museum and spent a couple of hours exploring this very large museum.

We then walked into the centre of York and had some lunch before then walking to our next museum, the York Castle Museum.

It had been suggested to us by both Patch and Barry that if we were going to be in York for lunch that we should visit Betty's, which we did, but we arrived at midday and the queue of people waiting to go in was enormous, so we ended up going elsewhere. 

Once we got to York Castle, another enjoyable couple of hours was spent going around the museum before we made our way back to the car and to the hotel for a quick pre-dinner snooze.

We had a very enjoyable dinner in the hotel, followed by a nice nightcap prior to a good night's sleep on what was effectively the last night of our "holiday" before the long drive back to Kent, with the reality of returning to work a couple of days later.

Now there's nothing until Malta in October, but hopefully the time until then will go as quick as the time since Edinburgh.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


In the state of Kentucky, at the moment, there is a woman languishing in jail.  She has been jailed for contempt of court, but could just has easily been jailed for hypocrisy.

The woman's name is Kim Davis and she is an elected clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky who has refused to issue marriage licences since the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in the United States.  Her reason for doing so is that it goes against her Christian religious beliefs.

However, her Christian religious beliefs appear to have not interfered with her working for her mother as a Deputy Clerk for more than two decades, and apparently receiving far more salary than any of the other chief deputies.

Nor did her Christian religious beliefs prevent her from marrying multiple times, committing adultery and having illegitimate children, all of which are frowned upon in the bible.

Ms Davis has apparently been married four times, albeit to one man twice. According to the bible, marriage is a lifetime commitment. “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). Didn't stop her doing that.

Also, according to the bible, “You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14).  Didn't stop her doing that either.  Apparently, she had twins who were born five months after her divorce from her first husband, but fathered by her third husband, meaning that there was another one in between!  Just as well that she's a Christian, as the Old Testament says  “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death" (Leviticus 20:10).  

And this brings me on to the third thing.  Her twins were fathered by a man that she was not married to and therefore were born illegitimately.  The bible says about this “No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 23:2).  That's them screwed then.

And to cap it all, this is a woman who, as an elected official, swore to 
"well and truly discharge the duties of the office of Rowan County Circuit Court clerk, according to the best of my skill and judgment, making the due entries and records of all orders, judgments, decrees, opinions and proceedings of the court, and carefully filing and preserving in my office all books and papers which come to my possession by virtue of my office; and that I will not knowingly or willingly commit any malfeasance of office, and will faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor, affection or partiality, so help me God."
So she swore an oath to her God to  "faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor, affection or partiality".  Yet when there is something that she doesn't agree with, she refuses to comply with the law that elected her, claiming to be acting "under God's authority".  I don't believe that she can have it both ways.

Don't get me wrong, I respect her right to have principles and to stick by those principles, because the bible does say "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22), but to do so in direct defiance of the modern United States law, which I am sure she lives the rest of her life by, is wrong, and she deserves to be in jail.  She has been offered the option of allowing her deputies to issue the licenses, five of whom have said that they would, and in fact have been doing so since she was locked up, but the sixth, her son (no nepotism there, then) has refused to do so.  However, even from her cell, Ms Davis is claiming that they are invalid as she, the elected clerk, hasn't signed them.

So what are the options.  She could resign, but I think that her religious bigotry would not allow her to do so.  And the State cannot just sack her, because she is an elected official.  The only the way that they can get rid of her is to impeach her, which may well be happening, as the Rowan County Attorney's Office has referred her case to the Attorney General of Kentucky's Office on the grounds of Official Misconduct.

What I find so surprising is the number of people who are jumping to her defence and supporting her, although to be fair, many of them I believe are jumping on the bandwagon as they are Republican Party Presidential hopefuls and it is only fourteen months until that election.  Even if they believe that the Supreme Court's ruling is wrong, it is the law and they must abide by it.

Can you imagine the outcry if the elected clerk was a devout Muslim who refused to issue driving licences to women, or a Mormon who insisted on proof of chastity before issuing a marriage licence, all because of their religious beliefs.  I very much doubt that they would get the support that this woman has.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Trips and Birthday Treats

Since Emma and I have been together, we've done a fair amount of travelling, the first time being to France and Belgium at the beginning of November 2013, with an overnight stay in Ieper.

Emma hadn't been there before, and before we left I’d done some research.  One of her family names is Streek, so I had visited the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and found all of the Streeks who were either buried or commemorated in France or Belgium.

We travelled over by ferry on the Friday, but discovered that most of France was closed as it was All Saints’ Day, when Catholic families visit the graves of their family and lay flowers. This we discovered when we visited the first of the Streeks, who is buried in Calais, and we found the cemetery packed with the living, as well as the dead.

We arrived in Ieper and settled into the Hotel, with time to visit the chocolate shops and have a drink before we attended the Last Post Ceremony which is organised by the Last Post Association and takes place at 8pm every evening at The Menin Gate.

This was Emma’s first time at the ceremony, and although I have been to it numerous times, I had always attended during the summer. It is a lot more atmospheric when its dark outside and cold, being just over a week short of the 95th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

After a fabulous dinner and a good night’s sleep, we visited some of the other places of interest, including Tyne CotLangemark and the village of Passendale, before heading down the motorway to France, where we visited my Great Grandfather who is commemorated in Dud Corner Cemetery before ending up at the Thiepval Memorial.

After this, it was back to Calais and the ferry, which was when I discovered that Emma is definitely not a sailor. Granted, the sea was a little rough, and also granted that the crossing that normally takes 1.5 hours ended up taking an hour longer because we got blown off course, after which Emma informed me that she would not be travelling by ferry again.

Other than a visit to my old school for Remembrance Sunday,  the first time that I had been back in quite a few years due to Army Reserve commitments, the next trip away was for my birthday in the January of 2014.

My birthday treat was a night in a hotel in London (we actually had a suite!) and I was taken to see The Mousetrap.  This Agatha Christie play has been running continuously since 1952, but if you don’t want to spoil the end if you haven’t seen it, don’t read the whole of the above article.

The next major trip abroad was for Emma’s birthday, which I started planning and sorting out before my birthday.  Because it was a special birthday (her xxth) I decided that I’d have to do something special.  However, I also decided that it was to be a complete surprise and everything was planned in secrecy, with very few people being privy to the final destination.

The day before her birthday, Emma and I boarded a train from Paddock Wood to Strood, where we boarded the high-speed train to St Pancras.  Emma still had no idea where we were going, having assumed that we weren’t leaving the UK and not realising that I still had her passport from our trip to Belgium.  In fact, it was only when I steered her into the entrance for the Eurostar that I told her that our destination was Paris.  Her face was a picture.

Having arrived and settled into our hotel, we decided to have a walk and explore the city as neither of us had been to Paris before.  This short walk turned into quite a trek, with us visiting Montmartre, before walking down through the Tuileries Garden, and walking along the Seine as far as the Louvre, although we didn’t go in, as it was evening time by now.

We did, however, find a little restaurant in one of the backstreets for dinner before attempting to walk back to our hotel, which was located opposite Gare du Nord.  But, due to a combination of a good meal washed down with a nice wine and the fact that I was in a city that I didn't know, we became geographically challenged (I had to explain to Emma that an Officer is never lost, he is always where he wants to be, but on occasion he may become geographically challenged).  As a result, we cheated and had our first trip on the Métro.

The Sunday was Emma’s actual birthday so we started off bright and early with a Métro trip to the Champs-Élysées, which we then walked the length of, passing such shops as Tiffany’s (fortunately closed!) until we got to the Arc de Triomphe.  But then we made our way to the place that Emma really wanted to see, the Eiffel Tower.

The crowd waiting to enter was huge, and we actually queued for about two hours before we even got into the tower, but we made it to the very top to be rewarded with spectacular views of the whole city.

After a leisurely afternoon, we got dressed up for Emma’s birthday dinner, for which I had booked a Seine river cruise with a five course meal, which was absolutely delicious and very relaxed as we sailed up and down the river, all started with a Kir Royal. 

Sadly, the following day was our last day in Paris, the weekend having seemed to have flown by, but we just had time to do a final bit of sight-seeing to Notre Dame de Paris before picking up presents for the kids and jumping on the Eurostar to return to the UK to nurse our aching feet and legs, because of the distance that we'd walked during the weekend.

A couple of months later, we were on the move again, this time with Alec, Drew, Maggie and Ant, Emma’s son, to Menorca, which as I have already said, was my first experience of an all-inclusive holiday, but is definitely something that I would consider again.

As for birthday treats, they have been a little less ‘lavish’ this year, other than the hotel.  Mine was again in London, with a day spent at the British Museum, a place that I would highly recommend that you visit, if you haven’t already done so.  But be prepared for the fact that you won’t get around everything in just one day!  The day was rounded off with a nice meal at a French restaurant near the hotel.

Emma’s birthday was at the same hotel as mine, the Hotel Russell, and again we ate at the French restaurant just up the road.

Since then, we’ve had our road trip to Scotland, and we are heading off to Malta next month, both of which will be covered in future entries.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Refugees, Migrants and Terrorists

At the moment, there is a crisis in many European countries, particularly those with a Mediterranean coast and their neighbours.  What the crisis is depends on how you interpret the mass of humanity that is making its way from North Africa across this stretch of water to seek asylum/sanctuary in Europe.  But what are these people? Are they refugees or are they migrants?  Well that depends on which news channel you listen to and the prevailing political opinion of the country in which the news is being broadcast.  But it is also important because the status of the two types is completely different.

A refugee is a person who has fled their country of origin because they are in fear of their life for whatever reason, and many of those fleeing across the Mediterranean are doing so because they are attempting to escape conflict in their own countries, such as Syria and many other African countries.

A migrant, on the other hand, is someone who has moved from their country of origin to another country in order to improve their circumstances, but not necessarily because they are imminently in danger.  And if you are in a situation where you realise that a move to a more prosperous country can improve your lot, how can blame the person from migrating.  But many of these migrants are not following the rules, obtaining visas etc., but they will travel alongside the refugees.

So, how do we tell who is a refugee, with a real need for asylum, and who is migrating to improve their position in life.  And this is the difficulty, because we often can’t.  A refugee fleeing for their life doesn't have time to pick up their passport, sort out travellers cheques and pack what they need.  They will often arrive with a small bundle that represents all of their worldly goods.  But then so will the migrants.

The European Union (EU) asylum rules state that the refugee must register for asylum in the first EU country that they reach.  That does not mean that they will then have to settle in that country, but they must register.  This often does not happen, the person moving from country to country through the EU’s open borders in an effort to find a country that, in the case of the migrants, they believe will serve them better.  And two of the most popular countries at the present time seem to be Germany and the United Kingdom.  However, to enter either Germany or the UK, or in fact pretty much any other EU country other than Greece, Italy or Spain, then that person has to have passed through a safe third country.

In the UK we are well aware that there are many people trying to enter the country, and living where I do, in the county that is the closest point to Europe, there is rarely a day that goes past when there is not a local news report about the migrants that are living rough in Calais attempting to stowaway on lorries coming from the continent or breaking through the security fencing and trying to enter the UK via the Channel Tunnel.

Whilst I agree that we must provide assistance to refugees, as this country has done for countless centuries for all types of displaced persons, be they Huguenots in the 16th and 17th Centuries or Jews in the 1930s, I also believe that there needs to be some controls to ensure that those seeking asylum are genuine asylum seekers.  I believe that this is more important now because of the security risk to all of the European countries from the numerous terrorist organisations, but particularly ISIS/Daesh, an organisation that has already threatened to flood Europe with “fighters” by secreting their “operatives” within the flood of refugees/migrants already making their way into Europe.  So how do we control the people who are attempting to enter the various countries?  It is a very difficult thing to do. 

In the UK those who are seeking asylum are free to move about whilst there application is considered, often having to report on a regular basis.  Once their application is granted, all restrictions are lifted and there are no conditions.  But what about those whose applications are rejected?  Last month, it was reported that “failed asylum seekers” would be re-branded as illegal immigrants and given a period of 28 days in which to leave the country.  In theory, this seems like a good idea, but what about in practice?

As I have already said, refugees don’t have time to collect things like passports when they flee, and a person cannot be transported from one country to another without appropriate travel documents.  So whilst waiting for the passport to arrive, what happens is that the person continues to have to report regularly.  But at this stage, they are aware that they are to be returned to their country of origin (or to the country where they first registered for asylum if the Dublin Regulation is invoked) and many will just disappear, hoping to continue living here until eventually caught.

There are a dozen or so Immigration Removal Centres located in the UK, but even these don’t provide sufficient accommodation for the estimated 25.000 asylum seekers registered in the UK (this figure doesn't include the migrants who have never registered), which means that there are many who are living freely throughout the country.  And whilst I have no doubt at all that the vast majority mean no harm to the people of the UK, there are bound to be a minority who do.

Since the rise of ISIS/Daesh in about 2012, there have been approximately 750 misguided British citizens who have left the safety of the UK to go and fight alongside these backward zealots in the Middle East.  The risk is that, if they haven’t been killed already, they will be facilitating the entry of the threatened flood into the UK, as I find it difficult that they have broken all social media links with their friends and family.  How many of those that are living in Calais are there under the orders of al-Baghdadi, and how can we tell?

To counter the extremism of the Middle East, the UK has developed its own extremists, such as the English Defence League, who, on the surface seem to be mostly Islamophobic, but actually seem to be intolerant of almost every race or religion other than their own, and would probably be happiest if no-one “foreign” was permitted to enter the country.  They have even made a released a video that suggests that in twenty years the UK will be having daily bombings and subject to Sharia Law.

So, at the end of this ramble, what is the solution?  I don’t think that there is simple one.  I firmly believe that displaced persons, refugees, need to have a place where they can go to be safe, be that the UK or another peaceful EU country, but I also believe that there has to be controls to ensure that only those who are genuine refugees, rather than merely migrants, are granted entry.  I am aware that there are measures in place, but I also don’t think that these measures go far enough to protect this country from those who would take advantage of our generosity or who would wish us harm.