All posts tagged: James O’Neill

Douma “Chemical Attack”: Still Waiting for an Apology

As in so many of Australia’s military forays around the world, the legal basis for the Syria involvement is notably absent, although in this particular case their role was limited to being cheerleaders on the sidelines. Australia’s participation in the so-called coalition of forces fighting in Syria and allied to the United States, a serial offender against international law, has no legal foundation whatsoever. The Australian government has had legal advice on the matter, and has had such advice since 2014. If it was confident of its legal position, why then does it continue to refuse to release that advice?

More than Cognitive Dissonance

James O’Neill The dilemmas in Canberra go beyond the respective roles of the American alliance and the China trade. They point to a failure to grasp historical reality and an equal failure to perceive the future. In a recent article in the influential Australian website Pearls and the Irritations (www.johnmenadue.com 8 January 2019) Richard Broinowski set out several reasons why the Canberra establishment (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry of Defence and Prime Minister and Cabinet) in what he described as cognitive dissonance, have adhered to a pro-American set of foreign policies. This has been the case ever since then Prime Minister John Curtin’s announcement in 1941 that Australia was essentially switching its reliance on the United Kingdom to an equally dependent relationship with the United States. Mr Broinowski then set out a series of factors why this has been the case at least up until the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, although he now detects some faint glimmerings of a possible policy shift. Such optimism in my view lacks a solid evidential foundation. …

Reasons to be Cautious About US ‘Withdrawal’ from Afghanistan

James O’Neill The weeks before and since Christmas have seen and acceleration of efforts to achieve a peace settlement in Afghanistan. What is interesting is that the countries that have an important stake in there being a peaceful Afghanistan are driving this process: Russia, China, Pakistan and the Central Asian republics adjoining or proximate to Afghanistan. Officials from these countries have met in Moscow and Astana and are due to meet again in Moscow on 5th February 2019. They are meeting with Taliban officials, Afghanistan Government representatives (although not in an official capacity) and in the case of the Moscow talks, a representative from the United States embassy. The United States has had separate talks with Taliban officials in Qatar, and on 25 January announced an agreement in principle on two crucial and linked elements: that foreign forces would be withdrawn within 18 months from the signing of a ceasefire agreement; and a pledge by the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a basis for attacks by Islamic extremists on the United States. …

Disbelief, Magic Realism and Doublethink Alive and Well in 2018

James O’Neill In the Lyrical Ballads, a collection of essays and poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the latter coined the phrase “the willing suspension of disbelief.” It enabled the reader to overlook the logical improbabilities or fanciful concoctions to achieve “poetic faith”. A modern equivalent might be “magical realism,” a term conceived by the German writer Franz Roh in 1925. Magical realism was a style of fiction that painted a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements. Both terms are appropriate when one considers modern journalism, especially as applied to some of the major stories of 2018. Four events during that year illustrate the point. Crimea Although not strictly speaking a 2018 story, it nonetheless ran strongly through 2018, blending a number of sub stories, all with the common element of Russia bashing. Following the United States inspired and financed Maidan coup in February 2014, the Crimeans decided to hold a referendum as to whether or not they would remain part of Ukraine (to whom they were ‘gifted’ …

Faint Signs of Hope in Syria and Afghanistan

James O’Neill In March 2003 Iraq was invaded by military forces led by the United States, and including other military forces from a range of US allies, including Australia. The ostensible reason for the invasion was the Iraqi government’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Possession of such weapons is not of itself a legitimate basis for invasion. The Allies therefore had to embellish the claim. Saddam Hussein was going to attack the United Kingdom, with only 45 minutes warning! He was using these weapons against his own people (a claim later repeated to justify the attack on Syria). He posed a threat to peace and stability in the Middle East (irony bypass required here). It was even hinted, none too subtly, that Saddam was one of the persons responsible for the events of 11 September 2001 (“9/11”). There was not a shred of evidence to support any of these allegations. Absence of evidence has never been a deterrent where imperial ambitions are concerned. The invasion of Iraq was about many things, but …

Australia and its Israel Embassy: What are they Thinking?

James O’Neill According to recent media reports, the Liberal candidate in the Wentworth (Sydney) by-election, former diplomat David Sharma said he “was open” to the idea that Australia’s embassy in Israel could be shifted from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In a separate tweet he went further and said Australia “should consider recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The ostensible reason is that it would be following the lead of the United States. In separate reports, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is said to be making an announcement in Canberra on 16 October also suggesting that Australia should follow the US lead. Sharma did qualify his suggestion that Australia’s embassy shift to Jerusalem “should be looked at in the context of a two-state solution (to Israel-Palestine)“. It is possible that both Sharma and Morrison have timed their statements to coincide with the by-election by making a pitch for the Jewish vote in that electorate. According to census data, Wentworth has 12.5 percent of its population professing the Jewish faith, a significant figure in electoral terms. That is the …

Caspian Sea Agreement Symptomatic of Wider Geopolitical Changes

James O’Neill On 12 August 2018 the five littoral states to the Caspian Sea (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan) signed an historic agreement governing the use of the Caspian Sea. The negotiations had been ongoing for more than 20 years. One of the issues was with the Caspian should be regarded as a sea (it is salty but completely enclosed) or a lake. If the former, then it would be governed by the international law of the sea. If defined as a lake, then the resources would be divided equally between the five States. In the event, the five nations agreed to accord it ‘a special status,’ neither lake nor sea. Whether this unique formulation will be recognised by non-littoral States is an open question. There are several significant elements to the Caspian Sea Convention (CSC) that are worthy of note. The first aspect is the size of the resources at stake. The Caspian Sea basin is known to hold 50 billion barrels of oil in proven reserves, and nearly 9 trillion cubic metres …

Second Salisbury Alleged Poisoning: Still More Questions than Answers

James O’Neill It is symptomatic of the level of desperation being felt by the British government that the illness of two known drug addicts (Rowley & Sturgess) in the town of Amesbury, Wiltshire, only a few kilometres from Porton Down and the site of the Skripal incident in March of this year, is immediately attributed to Russia by the British Home Secretary Sajid Javid and the Minister of State for Security Ben Wallace. Speaking in the House of Commons on 5 July Javid referred to the “decision taken by the Russian government to deploy [chemical weapons] in Salisbury on March 4 was reckless and callous……. It is now the time for the Russian state to come forward and explain exactly what has gone on.” Wallace for his part suggested that Russia “fill in the gaps” of what happened to allow the United Kingdom authorities to pursue their investigation and keep people safe. What we most need to be kept safe from are the bizarre and groundless allegations made about the Skripal incident on 4th of …

Australia needs an urgent reappraisal of its place in a changing world

James O’Neill It seems likely that the Australian House and Senate will pass the governments legislative proposals, ostensibly aimed at alleged foreign interference in Australia’s electoral process. Despite denials to the contrary, the legislation is manifestly aimed at alleged Chinese interference, although the scope of the proposed legislative provisions amounts to a sustained attack upon the ability of critics in the media and elsewhere to do their job of holding governments to account. The cynic might argue that such legislation is hardly necessary, as serious and sustained criticism of the policies of successive Australian governments, and certainly in the “defence” and “national security” areas has been conspicuously absent for many years both from the mainstream media and the Labor opposition. There has been a noticeable increase in the barrage of one-dimensional propaganda in recent decades, and a corresponding reduction in the presentation of fact based analysis. As equally insidious as the propaganda nature of much of what is termed “news” is the systematic ignoring of actual events. A stark illustration of this is in the …

The Skripal case & the perils of a rush to judgment

by James O’Neill amended to remove reference to the Spiez laboratory, which is not mentioned directly in the OPCW summary The perils of coming to premature conclusions before all the facts are available has been starkly demonstrated by the latest developments in the alleged nerve gas attack upon the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English town of Salisbury on 4 March 2018. Followers of this particular saga will be aware that British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have made a series of statements to the United Kingdom House of Commons and to the media. They alleged, without qualification, that the Skripals were poisoned with a nerve agent of the “Novichok” class, of a type “developed by Russia.” That these statements were made before it was possible for the British chemical and biological research facility at Porton Down to have made an analysis and reached a scientifically valid conclusion did not matter. The object of the exercise was to demonize Russia in general and …

The Rapidly Evolving Skripal Story: Evidence of the Destruction of an Anglo-American Plan

James O’Neill looks at the evolution and collapse of the official narrative about the alleged Skripal poisoning

Some Further Thoughts on the Skripal Affair

Barrister at Law James O’Neill offers some thoughts on the Skripal case and the recent judgement by Mr Justice Williams in the High Court Let the jury consider the verdict” the King said. “No, No” said the Queen: “sentence first, verdict afterwards”. “Stuff and nonsense” said Alice. The furore surrounding the alleged nerve gas poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia shows no signs of abating. It continuously puts one in mind of the quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland at the head of this article. For those of us with fond of memories of some of the traditional virtues of common-law justice, such as the presumption of innocence, the onus of proof upon the accuser, a verdict based upon evidence beyond reasonable doubt, and a prohibition on prejudicial pre-trial comment, it all seems like a very distant past. The latest development has been a group of nations, largely in the European Union, but also including United States, Canada, Australia and European minnows like Albania and Macedonia, joining the collective hysteria and expelling, …

Litvinenko and the Demise of British Justice

by James O’Neill February 11th, 2016 In the wake of the bizarre and troubling elisions and falsehoods already apparent in the Skripal case, it seems an opportune time to revisit the equally controversial case of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB officer and employee of Boris Berezovsky, allegedly poisoned with polonium on orders of the Kremlin in 2006. In a companion piece to our earlier study by British lawyer Alexander Mercouris, here barrister James O’Neill gives his own opinion on the case The publication on 21 January 2016 of the report by British Judge Sir Robert Owen on the death of Alexander Litvinenko was predictably seized upon by anti-Russian elements as confirmation of their conviction that Russia in general and President Putin in particular were the personification of modern day evil. Almost completely absent amidst the anti-Russian hysteria was any perspective on the history of Mr Litvinenko1; the circumstances leading up to his death; and any understanding of what a totally flawed exercise Owen’s inquiry actually was. Who Was Alexander Litvinenko? Litvinenko was generally described in …

MH17: The Continuing Charade

by James O’Neill, from New Eastern Outlook The Sun Herald (Sydney) of 22 May 2016 reported that the Australian families of the MH17 disaster had “served” the European court of Human Rights (ECHR) with a claim seeking compensation of $10 million for each victim. The report referred to the “proposed respondents” to the claim being the Russian Federation and its President Vladimir Putin. The solicitor acting for the plaintiffs was quoted in a separate report (1) claiming, “we have facts, photographs, memorandums (sic), tonnes of stuff.” He also claimed that the claim document ran to “over 3500 pages in length.” These reports closely followed the publication of the New South Wales Coroner’s Court report into the deaths of six of the victims who were resident in New South Wales. The Coroner’s findings closely followed those of the Report of the Dutch Safety Board of 13 October 2015, attributing the deaths of those aboard MH17 to a BUK missile detonating close to the aircraft, causing the plane to disintegrate and a consequent immediate loss of life …