First Published May 16, 2008, Dissident Warwick Issue 3
By Barnaby Pace
What is the value of a life? The answer sadly is not simple, nor is it constant. Is a British or American life worth more than an Iraqi or Sudanese life? It shouldn’t be, but it is. Those three thousand who died in the atrocities of the Twin Towers have been used to justify two invasions and numerous laws restricting or destroying essential liberties of those in the US and around the world. But are those 3000 worth more in this world than the 400,000 Sudanese people who have died in the Darfur conflict since 2003 (UN, 2006)? The violent death of those 400,000 does not even warrant more than a minute on the news or sufficient aid or peacekeeping troops to stop the genocide in Darfur. What about the 18,000 children who die of hunger every day (Associated Press, 2007)? Who will value their lives? At the same time as the UN food agency and charities are attempting to save those 18,000 children our governments and corporations invest in 1st generation biofuels to fuel our vehicles instead of growing food, exacerbating the problem (Borger, 2008).
But what is the value of justice or freedom? As was seen last year British politicians will widely condemn human rights violations and violence in Burma where it costs them little or nothing, but will roll out the red carpet for the Saudi royal family when there are lucrative arms deals and oil supplies on offer. The personal greed of those in power does seem to outweigh the value of justice or morality when the price is high enough. For example the Al-Yamamah arms deal between BAE Systems and the Saudi Arabia, sponsored by the UK government was worth £43 billion (BBC, Judges to rule on BAE challenge, 2008). It seems £43 billion is enough to persuade Tony Blair’s government to ignore bribery and to terminate the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the illegal payments to Saudi ministers and military personnel. It would be deeply naive to believe that national security had anything to do with it. The Saudi Arabian intelligence services are at best heavily reliant on US and British help and at worst a bunch of torturing thugs (Mitchell, 2008) that we should be denouncing on principle. Stopping the investigation also breaks the OECD agreement which prohibits the ending of corruption investigations for “Commercial, Financial or National Security reasons”. This was recently proven in court by Campaign Against the Arms Trade and the Corner House (BBC, Judges to rule on BAE challenge, 2008). The Judge in the case went so far as to say that with regards to the UK government’s disdain for the law “No one, whether within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice” (BBC, UK wrong to halt Saudi arms probe, 2008). At times the interests of those in power can and has disrupted the fair course of justice. Similarly politicians in both the UK and US (both Democrat and Republican) will turn a blind eye to allegations of war crimes, ordered by the US government, they may fear the loss of their own personal and party’s positions of power thisand the problems caused by admitting to these crimes committed in their name. Is that a fair reason to ignore these crimes?
We condemn the murder of men, women and children in our country strongly enough to occupy several tabloid pages every day and yet on the other hand will praise the mercenaries who kill, maim and torture for a living. Why does our government rightly strive to cut violent crime in the UK but allow armed mercenaries (Private Military Contractors) to operate around the world without being subject to military law or seemingly any law (War on Want, 2006)? This was shown explicitly with the gunning down of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater mercenaries last year and their immunity to Iraqi, US or international law (Guardian, 2008). Their immunity may be because of the UK and US militaries reliance on mercenaries to continue their operations with over 100,000 mercenaries currently employed in Iraq (Scahill, 2007). Their favoured position could also be due to their usefulness in doing the dirtiest jobs with Titan and CACI employees’ involvement in torture at Abu Ghraib (Isenberg) and their subsequent immunity from prosecution as an example (Easton, 2006)). It could also return us to basic human greed with mercenaries having too many valuable political connections and too much money (an estimated $100 Billion sales in 2004 (Holmqvist, January 2005)).
If we cannot judge people equally in life and death then we have no right to hold any ethical opinion. Any opinion we hold before this equality is reached in our mind will be a double standard. These moral inequalities so evident in parts on UK foreign policy and around the world disgrace our societies and will only cause future danger and injustice in the world. We cannot turn a blind eye to the horrors of our world when it suits us. We must insist on the equality of all we have claimed to have valued for so long apply of the law without fear or favour. Some elements of human nature puts obstacles in the way of such a utopian ideal but by taking notice and encouraging change where possible we might inch closer to a better world.
Associated Press. (2007, 2 17). 18,000 children die every day of hunger, U.N. says. Retrieved 4 5, 2008, from USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-02-17-un-hunger_x.htm
BBC. (2008, Febuary 15). Judges to rule on BAE challenge. Retrieved April 2008, 8, from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7247714.stm
BBC. (2008, April 10). UK wrong to halt Saudi arms probe. Retrieved April 10, 2008, from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7339231.stm
Borger, J. (2008, 4 5). UN chief calls for review of biofuels policy. Retrieved 4 5, 2008, from Guardian Newspaper: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/apr/05/biofuels.food
Easton, A. (2006, 4 27). War privatisation talks in Warsaw. Retrieved 4 5, 2008, from BBC Online, 27 April 2006.
Guardian. (2008, 1 16). Report: US fails at enforcing prosecution of contractors. Retrieved 4 8, 2008, from Guardian.co.uk: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jan/16/iraq.usa
Holmqvist, C. (January 2005). Private Security Companies. The Case for Regulation. SIPRI Policy Paper, No 9 .
Isenberg. A government in search of cover.
Mitchell, S. (2008, 2 18). Rolling over before Saudi threats. Retrieved 4 2008, 8, from Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/18/saudiarabia.foreignpolicy
Scahill, J. (2007). Blackwater.
UN. (2006, September 21). Annan welcomes extension of African Union mission in Darfur. Retrieved April 4, 2008, from UN: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=19948&Cr=sudan&Cr1=
War on Want. (2006). Corporate Mercenaries.