With war crimes it all depends on who is doing the killing.

The UK calls for war crimes trials against Saudi Arabia in connection with the striking of hospitals and schools in Yemen and the large-scale loss of civilian life. No. Just kidding. Actually Boris Johnson, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, has been calling for war crimes trials for Russia based on its bombing campaign in Aleppo. The Western media is focusing on Aleppo. Let’s turn our attention to Yemen.

In Yemen the UN reports large-scale civilian casualties caused by planes of the Saudi/US coalition.  Hospitals and schools are frequently hit. There have been “massive civilian casualties and zero accountability for those responsible”. [1] Only this week a funeral was bombed causing massive loss of life. The strike appears to have been carried out by the Saudi coalition. (The funeral in Yemen was a gathering of Houti leaders so one can hazard a guess that it was bombed deliberately). The strike appears to have used a double-tap strike (according to the BBC). [2] Only last week the UK’s Foreign Secretary explained that the alleged Russian use of the ‘double-tap’ method in Syria is “unquestionably a war crime”. [3]

The US arms Saudi Arabia. According to the Independent ‘thousands’ of civilians have been killed in the Saudi bombing of the Yemeni capital Sanaa so far. [4] The US was warned last year by its own lawyers about possible complicity in war crimes due to its involvement with the Saudi bombing campaign. [4] The UK is engaged in giving military training support to the Saudi bombing operation in Yemen. [5] The UK also sells weapons to Saudi Arabia. Following the bombing of the funeral Downing Street issued a curt statement that they are waiting for the results of the Saudi ‘investigation’ (an in-house investigation) but noted that Saudi Arabia is a “close and important ally for Britain”. [6]

That Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, can stand up in the House of Commons and call for war crimes trials against Russian leaders based on their campaign against acknowledged terrorists in Eastern Aleppo in Syria while Downing Street issues a blunt statement about “close and important ally” when Saudi Arabia is directly identified by the UN as hitting schools and hospitals in Yemen says something about Boris Johnson’s capacity for mental compartmentalization. One reason he can do this is because the fully on-board UK press will, in the main, play along. For example today both the Guardian and the Telegraph carry stories about Mr Johnson’s call for war crimes trials against Russia but nothing about Yemen, despite the recent massacre at the funeral. The Guardian also carries an emotive story about claimed civilian casualties from air-strikes (Russian or Syrian) in eastern Aleppo. [7] The article is crafted so as to intersperse the process of the debate in parliament with an alleged account of civilian injuries from Russian/Syrian bombing in Aleppo.  This is a purely emotional tactic – a piece of theatre which does a disservice to the people in the story. (The story does mention 7 deaths but, tellingly, these are not described as the deaths of ‘old men, children, women’, leaving open the possibility that these were fighters). The main source for the story is a member of a Western funded NGO ‘White Helmets’ who is misleadingly described as “civil defence staff”. Injuries in war are sad. Injuries to innocent children are especially harrowing. But when we see stories like this, long on emotion and short on facts, we should realise that someone is trying to manipulate us. And, if they are trying to get a result by manipulating peoples’ emotions that is perhaps a sign that they could not get a result by reason. The result they are seeking is clear; they want the West to bomb Assad. One is reminded of stories about babies being stolen from incubators (an entirely false story that was used to whip up fever for the first Gulf war).

The attentive reader will notice some connections here. The UK is a major funder of the ‘White Helmets’. [8] The ‘White Helmets’ liaise with the Guardian to produce stories about the horrors of Assad’s or Russian bombing. Boris Johnson stands up in the House and accuses Russia of war crimes. A combined front generating a case for a military intervention.

Business as usual then. ‘Human rights’ and ‘war crimes’ are being deployed with complete cynicism for what the terms actually mean, as a tactic of war and domination. While our intelligence is insulted with this twisting of terms which should have some meaning our emotions are assailed with powerful imagery of shell-shocked children – always it seems the ones whose suffering is caused by the other side. Who knows; perhaps there is something especially horrible about being bombed with a Russian bomb rather than an American bomb? After all aren’t American bombs nice and clean and the bringers of freedom and democracy? Don’t they usher in a world where we can all sit in cafés and read the Guardian in a Utopian liberal democracy?


1. UN. January 2016. Civilian casualties in Yemen

October 2016. RT reports comments by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

UN site. October 2016. Quotes by UN Commissioner for Human Rights

2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-37613440 – BBC reporting that Saudi Arabia has admitted to being involved in the strike on a funeral. The strike included a “double-tap” follow-up attack.

3. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1887484/vladimir-putin-is-slaughtering-innocent-civilians-in-syria-on-purpose-claims-boris-johnson/ – the Sun reports that Boris Johnston claimed that the Russians are using “double-tap” strikes in Aleppo and this is “unquestionably a war crime”.

4. Independent. October 2016 – US was warned by its own lawyers that its arms sales to Saudi Arabia could implicate it in war crimes

5. Guardian April 2016. UK providing training to Saudi Arabia

6. ITV. October 2016. UK to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia after funeral strike (pending the results of the in-house ‘investigation’)

7. Guardian. October 2016

8. RT. October 2016. Reports on UK financial support for ‘White Helmets’

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer