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Britain Shows Its Weakness by Not Putting the Isis 'Beatles' on Trial
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The British government purports to be re-establishing the UK as an independent nation state by leaving the EU, but British power and ability to decide its own policies are continuing to ebb in the real world. The latest evidence of this is the decision by the Home Secretary Sajid Javid to give precedence to the US in putting on trial two alleged Isis members from London, who belonged to the notorious “Beatles” group in Syria that specialised in torturing and beheading their captives.

The humiliating admission by a country that it is incapable of dealing effectively and legally with its worst criminals is normally made by states like Colombia and Mexico, which extradite drug lords to the US. Their governments are implicitly confessing that they are too feeble and corrupt to punish their most powerful lawbreakers.

The British authorities are encouraging the Syrian Kurds holding El Shafee Elsheik and Alexanda Kotey to extradite them to the US rather than Britain. The declared motive for this is that there is a better chance of a speedy trial and exemplary sentence before a US court than in a British one, though the record in the US since 9/11 makes this a dubious argument.

What does come across is that Britain is in a messy situation regarding Isis prisoners and the return of jihadis to UK, with which it is unable to cope. The decision is now being reviewed by a judge in the UK.

As with Mexico and Colombia, the overall impression left by Javid’s actions is one of weakness and incapacity.

First, he made the baffling and unexplained decision to drop the usual British condition that the UK would provide evidence and intelligence for a trial only if the death penalty was ruled out. Moreover, he not only abandoned the longheld British principle of opposing state executions but did so in secret, suggesting the government knew all too well the significance of its change of policy.

The simplest explanation for not seeking a “death penalty assurance” from the US is that Theresa May, Javid and Boris Johnson, foreign secretary when the decision was made, saw the “Beatles” as a political hot potato.

They would be squeezed between those who demand that Elsheik and Kotey be punished with extreme rigour, and those who believe that the worst way to respond to Isis is to be lured into some form of lynch law. It is possible that the Trump administration unofficially insisted that Britain step back from its open opposition to the death penalty.

An alternative solution would be to hand over the two accused men to the International Criminal Court in the Hague – the only real objection to this being that the US refuses to recognise the court and the British priority in the age of Brexit is, above all else, to keep onside with Washington.

Isis benefits from the imbroglio over these Beatles because its atrocities have always aimed at instilling fear, but at the same time provoking an over-reaction by those it targets. This strategy worked well for al-Qaeda after 9/11 when US judicial credibility was damaged beyond repair in the eyes of the world by rendition, waterboarding, imprisonment without trial at Guantanamo and ritualised mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

At every stage in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, successive British governments have made unforced errors. They never seem to grasp the nature of these civil wars and how difficult it is to give a fair trial to anybody caught up in them because anybody detained on the vaguest suspicion may be sent to prison, tortured into a confession and summarily executed.

I was in Taji, a Sunni Arab area north of Baghdad in June this year, a place which used to be an Isis stronghold. A farmer told me that several of his neighbours have not made the hour-long journey to Baghdad for 10 years because they are frightened of being detained at government checkpoints, imprisoned and forced into false confessions.

The same fears are pervasive in Syrian government areas. Several years ago, I was talking to Sunni Arab refugees living in a school in the partly ruined city of Homs, where fighting was particularly intense. I said that it must be dangerous for any man of military age to move on the roads.

This was greeted with bitter laughter from the older men who said they were in just as much danger as their younger relatives.

Often the only way to get out of prison is not proof of innocence, but a bribe to the right officials. This is expensive and does not always work because the bribe-takers do not necessarily deliver on their promises. Iraqis and Syrians commonly believe that those most likely to buy their way out of prison are Isis militants who can come up with large sums of money and are too dangerous to be short-changed by officials they have bribed.

After the capture of Mosul, the de facto Isis capital in Iraq, in 2017, local people told me they were aghast at seeing former Isis officials back on their streets after a short detention. They claimed that this was because of the wholesale bribery of Baghdad government security forces.

Iraqi soldiers in the front line were equally cynical and concluded that there was no point sending live prisoners back to Baghdad so they executed them on the spot.

The Beatles are more famous because they killed and mistreated Westerners, but otherwise they were no different from other cruel and murderous Isis gangs. It is claimed that one reason they could not be tried in Britain is that information from the intelligence agencies could not be used without compromising sources. This might be true but whenever secret intelligence from government agencies has been revealed by public inquiries over the past 15 years, it has turned out to be far shakier and less compelling than originally claimed.


Knowing who really was in Isis and what they did there is impossible in countries where torture is pervasive and false confessions the norm. The time to have dealt with British jihadis and the tens of thousands of other fanatical foreign fighters was several years ago when they were freely crossing the Turkish border into Syria.

But the British government and its allies showed little concern because the priority then was forcing regime change in Damascus, an aim shared by the jihadis.

Sajid Javid pretends that the principle of government opposition to the death penalty will only be set aside in this single exceptional case, though principles that can be discarded so easily at convenient moments automatically cease to be principles.

The controversy over the legal fate of the “Beatles” underlines once again the truth of Cicero’s saying that “the laws are silent in times of war”.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Britain, Iraq, ISIS 
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  1. German_reader says:

    Iraqi soldiers in the front line were equally cynical and concluded that there was no point sending live prisoners back to Baghdad so they executed them on the spot.

    Sounds like a good policy. I don’t see why ISIS members should get a trial in Western countries at all, it would be best if the Syrian and Iraqi authorities dealt with them by summary execution.

    • Agree: Roderick Spode
  2. Steve says:

    Perhaps this explains why Britain did not want to try “ The Beatles” in the UK.?
    “In 2015, a court case collapsed at the Old Bailey against a Swedish national, Bherlin Gildo, accused of attending a terrorist training camp to fight in Syria, when it became clear that British intelligence agencies were supporting the same opposition groups as he was. British media reported that Gildo was fighting either with Nusra or a linked jihadist group, the Kataib al-Muhajireen.”
    Full article here.:-

  3. @German_reader

    Sounds like a war crime.

    • Replies: @stjm
  4. Ma Laoshi says:

    Sounds like a good policy. I don’t see why ISIS members should get a trial in Western countries at all, it would be best if the Syrian and Iraqi authorities dealt with them by summary execution.

    Ah but you see, you have interchanged the original “prisoners” with “ISIS members” as if they’re always the same–but who knows? Haven’t we been here already during the Afghan conflict, when locals found they could settle their village feuds by reporting their neighbours as “Taliban” to the ignorant Americans. Without any kind of process or law (and one can’t be too idealistic in the case of Iraq), you’re mostly adding to the body count instead of fighting terror.

    Similar for Duterte: it’s one thing to take the gloves off, but just whacking people left and right while hoping that there are drug-dealers among them only spreads anarchy while needlessly creating new enemies. And of course, the machine you’re thus building has a nasty habit of turning on yourself.

  5. @Ma Laoshi

    In a town in my wife’s home province on Mindanao, Duterte’s forces gunned down or arrested the mayor, his daughter, and a number of his associates and employees — and they WERE well known for dealing meth and feared, acquiring political and economic power, intimidating and when need be brutalizing the local people, and buying or starting a restaurant and at least one other business in town to launder their money and earn additional profits. Removing those people was a godsend.

    Now, not to be naive, one big question with such gov takedowns of druglords has to be: did the gov do it so that a competing dealer can take over? Does the gov give a pass to druglords who pass along the cash and support them and their political party? I have no idea how to answer those questions for the raid I mentioned, or for other raids in the Philippines. But they need to either legalize or do even more than duterte is doing. The muddling along isn’t working, and Duterte rightly perceives that their society is hanging by a thread in places.

    • Replies: @Ma Laoshi
  6. stjm says:

    Oh dear.
    In war the law is silent.

    The gilding comes later.
    For the comfort and self-importance of the lying fathers, homebodies, white feather girls, and general aesthetic reworking for reverent storage in the national virtue treasury.

  7. Ma Laoshi says:

    You will know the situation in the Philippines better than me, although it’s not that far from where I write this. What I wrote was not a wholesale condemnation of Duterte; certainly a situation like you describe won’t be solved with happy talk. But if you use force without any kind of law or accountability, it will lead to one mafia replacing another–that’s just how human nature works in an atmosphere of fear and anarchy. If shooting those local strongmen was the right thing to do, then you should be willing to take responsibility for it.

    My mixed feelings about Duterte are also based on another episode. Good for you if you question your country’s place as a vassal in the Empire. Everybody roots for the plucky Pinoy who calls POTUS a son of a whore. But before you ran off your mouth, have you thought this through? Is there a Plan B in place? The answer came with the Marawi Incident: “somebody” drove home the point that the Philippines are way unprepared to take care of their own security without help from big brother. So Duterte’s macho posturing got the country into a confrontation it wasn’t ready for, especially given that relations with China are also testy.

  8. Renoman says:

    England is a FAG Country, everyone knows it.

  9. “Returning ISIS fighters” should not be “integrated into society.” They should be lined up against the wall and shot.

  10. lavoisier says: • Website

    Execution for any psychopath who engages in torture and murder is good policy. Just be sure that those who are being executed did the crime.

    Liberal courts are notoriously incapable of dealing with evil doers because they are filled with stupid liberals. But if the soldier in the field knows who the scumbags are, give them license to rid the world of the vermin without delay if given the opportunity.

  11. anon[693] • Disclaimer says:

    “a small detective story. Note down this number: MFG BGM-71E-1B. And this number: STOCK NO 1410-01-300-0254. And this code: DAA A01 C-0292. I [ Robert Fisk] found all these numerals printed on the side of a spent missile casing lying in the basement of a bombed-out Islamist base in eastern Aleppo last year. At the top were the words “Hughes Aircraft Co”, founded in California back in the 1930s by the infamous Howard Hughes and sold in 1997 to Raytheon, the massive US defence contractor whose[ profits last year came to \$23.35bn (£18bn). Shareholders include the Bank of America and Deutsche Bank. —

    past year especially has seen an uptick in such systematic attempts to trace foreign-supplied weapons on the Syrian battlefield, most of them recovered from internationally designated terrorists groups (even ISIS), back to their origination points. We’ve previously detailed a number of these reports, for example: Journalist Interrogated, Fired For Story Linking CIA And Syria Weapons Flights as well as Weapons Went From The CIA To ISIS In Less Than Two Months — the latter based on extensive arms tracking and field forensics research produced by Conflict Armament Research (CAR).

    2 patsy !!! That’s the focus now on !

  12. Prosecuting your own mercenaries can be problematic.

  13. I’m glad we’re not putting them on trial, because our judges and magistrates are useless.

    You can ponder whether the corruption of our judiciary by various interest groups over the last 50 years was deliberately designed to produce a situation where the average Brit no longer trusts our courts to do justice, or whether it was just a happy side effect.

    ” A farmer told me that several of his neighbours have not made the hour-long journey to Baghdad for 10 years because they are frightened of being detained at government checkpoints, imprisoned and forced into false confessions.”

    This is why having more than a few dozen Iraqis* in the UK is a bad idea. Same applies to Syrians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis – indeed all those from high-corruption, low-trust societies.

    * yes, I know. We shouldn’t have invaded them, nor should be be funding and training terrorists in Syria, nor should we be in Afghanistan, nor should we have attacked Libya.

  14. Malla says:

    ISIS is in bed with the British establishment (bankers) anyways. ISIS and other so called “Islamic terrorists” help the banker elites to make more excuses to increase surveillance and control on the British people.

  15. Anonymous[667] • Disclaimer says:

    Let’s not make Khan angry, lest Londonistan become an even more violent shithole.

  16. I did a double-take when I saw the header. Mr. Coburn finally takes a stand against actual criminals? As opposed to right-wing “criminals” he doesn’t like? Then I find out that he’s opposed to the death penalty for murderous jihadists, a sentence that might be meted out if these people are extradited to the US. It was gratifying to see that Mr. Coburn remains a man of principle.

  17. @Ma Laoshi

    Haven’t we been here already during the Afghan conflict, when locals found they could settle their village feuds by reporting their neighbours as “Taliban” to the ignorant Americans.

    But that wouldn’t work, since the only way those neighbors could get GI’s to fire on them was to approach uniformed American patrols or fire bases and attack them. These aren’t the Soviets you’re looking for.

    • Replies: @El Dato
  18. El Dato says:
    @Johann Ricke

    Because Americans are totally hip with local traditions and language and totally don’t bomb hamlets marked by local Quislings as “harboring terrorists”.

    Are we in Disney World.

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