IslamTimes recently published a report about a protest by Smash EDO, an anti-war group based in Brighton. Islam Times had a conversation with Smash EDO’s press representative, Andrew Beckett who shed some light on their campaign, about the arms trade industry and even the need to reform the UN legal system.
IslamTimes: What can you tell us about Smash EDO; what does the name mean and what exactly are you trying to achieve?
Andrew: The name Smash EDO is the name of the campaign against an arms factory in Brighton called EDO MBM Technology Limited, a subsidiary of the US based ITT Exelis Corporation. The objective of the campaign is to either close down the factory or get them to stop making military equipment. We use the name Smash EDO to express our anger at what they do.
IslamTimes: Are you trying to challenge them on a legal basis or a moral basis?
Andrew: Both. We challenge them in every way that we can. We recognise that the legal basis is limited by the fact that the legal system itself is politically biased and protects them in a number of ways, but since we also have moral and political objections to them that go beyond their unlawfulness this is not the end of the matter. We say they are unlawful, immoral and politically objectionable.
IslamTimes: What are some of the activities that EDO MBM carries out that caused you to start this campaign?
Andrew: The campaign began in 2004, so it was just after, well, it was deep into the UK/US invasion of Iraq. Brighton is a very anti-war city. There were thousands of people here who spontaneously came out into the streets in opposition to the war as they did elsewhere. Before and after the war began the British government completely ignored the will of millions of people here, as did other western governments around the world and there was a decision made by anti-war groups in Brighton to move away from protests and lobbying of central government in London as ineffective, and instead find a local focus for the anti-war movement that was raging at the time. It became clear that there was this company EDO who were making parts – very essential parts – for the Paveway guided bomb system which was the most used munition in the initial aerial bombardment of Iraq. Paveway bombs are supplied to the UK and US by another big arms company but EDO are responsible for much of the electronic and guidance system interface for them, as well the Paveway bomb racks which they helped develop and design as part of an industry team. So we decided that they were the perfect local emblematic target for our campaign. In fact, up until 2003, they used to be named the Emblem Group. Their factory is based in a building called the Emblem House, so by chance, it fitted linguistically as well as morally, politically and legally. From then on we decided to target them as an emblem of the entire arms industry and opposition to the war against Iraq. Ever since they have become the site of anti-war protests, not just against the Iraq war but all the military operations they have assisted around the globe since.
IslamTimes: At the moment, I think the world focus is on Syria because there have been accusations that certain countries have been supplying the rebels with weapons. Are you aware of any British firms who are involved in such activities?
Andrew: I am not aware of that. I expect that is going on behind the scenes but I have no evidence to prove it. Considering the statements made by the British government and their eagerness to arm the rebels despite there being no public support for it, I would expect there is stuff going on behind the scenes which we don’t know about. I know it’s public that there is Qatari and Saudi Arabian weapons going to these groups, and Croatian weapons are also turning up, but I suspect there is a lot of help from the British and the Americans even in those cases.
IslamTimes: I think a lot of people are now starting to become aware about the arms trade and how much profit people make out of it. Can you tell us who are the people or groups of people who benefit from these profits?
Andrew: Well, this is what we call the ‘revolving door’ of military officials and ex-government bureaucracy officials who at one moment are handing out contracts to arms companies, and the next are being paid by them. There is a small group of high ranking government and military officials who tend to profit the most from the arms trade. One research group have called it the global dominance group. The author Andrew Feinstein has written a very detailed and well researched book about arms trade corruption which provides numerous examples.
IslamTimes: So you’re telling me this is fact. Ex-government officials are now directors in some arms companies?
Andrew: Oh, it’s easy to find. That’s all public – I mean you just need to look up who is working at BAE for example, or Lockheed Martin. Retired generals, former defence secretaries, and more often than not they were previously involved in military procurement roles and military decision making. Even at EDO – you’d think this wouldn’t
happen with a small factory – but the former chairman of the board of EDO (UK) Ltd, which is the holding company based in the same building, Emblem House, was up until 2009, Robert Walmsley. He was the chief of procurement at the Ministry of Defence up until 2003 and within a year of his retirement he became not only the chairman of EDO(UK) Ltd, but he was also appointed to the board of General Dynamics in the US which is one the top 5 biggest arms companies in the world. That was actually raised in parliament. There was an inquiry about it carried out by a parliamentary corruption watchdog committee and he was questioned. Their advice to him was not to take the job for a year after his retirement because otherwise it might have the public appearance of being reward for contracts that he had handed to both EDO and General Dynamics shortly before retirement for the BOWMAN radio system. So you can look that up, it’s all on record. The current CEO of ITT Exelis, EDOs US parent company, David Melcher is a former US army general. The Exelis board also has other former high ranking Pentagon and intelligence agency officials. At least two ex-directors of the CIA have been on the board, and several ex US military intelligence officials. Back in the 60s and 70s ITT help fund the CIA backed military coup that brought the fascist dictatorship of General Pinochet to power in Chile. ITT’s history of such activities goes back to the 1920s. The late journalist Anthony Sampson wrote a whole book about it. The same close links to US government and military circles continues to the present. Remarkably one ex-director of EDO’s US parent, the retired US navy admiral Dennis C. Blair (a man with a separate history of complicity in Indonesian war crimes as a military officer) moved from the company into the role of the US Director of National Intelligence – the highest ranking intelligence job in the US administration – after having to leave the company because he had been found to have acted in conflict of interest over the contract for the F-22 aircraft weapons system. He was running a US government funded ‘independent’ think tank that produced a report that advised the extension of the multimillion dollar F-22 program, while sitting on the board of the company that supplies its weapons system. This is a weapon system EDO in Brighton had a hand in developing and making. So even though he was forced to resign for apparent wrongdoing, he still ended up with the top intelligence job in the Obama administration. The list of similar incidents goes on and on.
IslamTimes: Coming back to recent events, you recently staged a lockdown protest at the EDO headquarters in Brighton. Can you tell us a bit more about that and what happened? Was anyone arrested?
Andrew: Yes there were two people arrested. That was to mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and what happened was a group of people got up very early in the morning and locked and glued themselves to the gates of EDO MBM in Brighton in order to mark that anniversary. The two people were arrested on suspicion, they haven’t been charged yet so I can’t really go into many details – they might not get charged – but they were arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespassing which is a minor public order offence and criminal damage for using super glue to glue themselves to steel gates. So very minor indeed – if you want to class that as criminal damage, which we certainly don’t, it would be less than a few pounds worth. It seems hardly worth prosecuting anybody for, but they probably will.
IslamTimes: Does it feel like the government is trying to constrain your campaign by carrying out such arrests and not letting the protestors, you know, protest in peace?
Andrew: Yes, we have a documented history, starting from 2004 right at the beginning of the campaign, of government and police involvement in trying to repress us – it’s come from a very high level because within a year of the campaign starting, the company brought a civil injunction case in the high court against people they could identify as protesters, due to being arrested and identified by the police. EDO tried to sue them on grounds of harassment saying that we were trying to harass their employees simply by protesting outside. EDO were allowed a precautionary interim injunction by the court before any evidence was even tested, which made protesting outside the factory a criminal offence with a penalty of five years in prison for any breach. The court accepted without questioning the word of police statements that we were a threat to employees and public order.
The court action was brought, according to the documents which were disclosed during the case pre-trial hearings, with the full support of high levels within the police and security forces. Witness statements from Special Branch (the UK government political security police) urged the Court to bring that action, treating us as a ‘domestic extremist’ group. EDO lost that case in part because of the company’s unhealthy relationship with the police, which was so close that the lawyers of a private arms company were exchanging emails with the police commanders asking the police to exaggerate
their assessment our campaign’s threat to public safety in order to secure the strict injunction, and criminalise our freedom to protest.
IslamTimes: And did the police comply with them?
Andrew: They did, yes, we have documents which show the drafts of the original witness statements and how EDO’s lawyers edited and asked for changes to them. These show how a police commander changed her witness statement according to EDO’s requests. You can see the editing process from the emails sent by EDO’s lawyers to the police and how it resulted in the final product. More seriously than this, the police were even apparently arresting more people on more serious charges during the court pre-trial proceedings to feed the case with more apparent evidence of a serious threat. After EDO was found by the court to have abused the legal system, and dropped the case – paying out a fortune in costs that damaged their financial results in 2006 – the police suddenly dropped all the criminal cases against protesters at the same time, actually admitting this was because EDO had dropped their case.
IslamTimes: Due to such incidents, is it correct for someone to conclude that the much coveted “freedom of speech” in the UK is really just for a show of face, and anyone who disagrees with the authorities really has no such freedom?
Andrew: What we’ve seen since 2001 in the UK and elsewhere in the western ‘democracies’ is a massive shift of resources into police spying and intelligence gathering exploiting a constructed pretext of the threat of terrorism. The attack on the freedom to protest and dissent and the increased surveillance of political groups and activists has been allowed to run wild on grounds of ‘national security’. In a very recent case, John Catt, a veteran campaigner associated with our campaign through his simple attendance at demonstrations with a sketch book, was put on the police national database as a domestic extremist and tracked and followed around the country even though he is an 80 year old man who has never been convicted of any crime in his life. That case has proven the fact that police surveillance of peaceful protests has been breaching fundamental human rights of people in the UK, and is seen as an attempt to intimidate and repress open political dissent. Then there has been the sickening exposure of undercover police agents such as Mark Kennedy and others within the environmentalist movement and beyond. These agents have clearly abused women in the most psychologically destructive way, under the control and command of political police intelligence units. Our campaign was infiltrated by one such agent – who called himself Marco Jacobs – at the same time as the police were working with EDO to criminalise us in the high court case. Luckily he failed to sabotage our legal defence although he must have been providing EDO with inside information through his police handlers.
IslamTimes: So the British government is spying on its own population?
Andrew: Yes, of course, yes. This is all proven now.
IslamTimes: Do you collaborate with other anti-War groups?
Andrew: Well, we have regular contact around the country with other groups working on the same issues, but we are a small group with limited resources and are focused on Brighton. We are often asked to speak around the country for different audiences and are happy to do so when we can find the funds to travel.
IslamTimes: How do you fund your campaigns?
Andrew: It’s all funded by grassroots fundraising like local musical events, fund raising meals etc.. Thanks to propaganda against us many organisations are nervous about funding us, believing the police lies about our violent intentions. The winning of court cases is a good source of money. Thousands of pounds in compensation for court costs and unlawful arrests and detention has been claimed in the civil courts and much of this money has been channelled back into the campaign help to sustain it. Sometimes we put out a call for money we need to pay for court fines of those few who get convicted. We have a very low turnover, as we’re all voluntary, and do not pay ourselves for our time.
IslamTimes: So is there enough support or there isn’t?
Andrew: There’s always a need for more money, definitely, because it’s quite costly when getting into the legal field which does increase our need to pay professionals for things like expert reports. When you go down the road of using the legal system then you do need to spend more money. Otherwise, it’s all about leaflets, megaphones, banners, bike locks, superglue, and transport to protest events and so on.
IslamTimes: What support do you need from the people of Brighton?
Andrew: We do have a lot of support in Brighton already. We have the support of the ruling political party, the MP…
IslamTimes: Which MP is this?
Andrew: Caroline Lucas, the Green MP. She’s given her support. She’s been a witness in one of our court cases. In 2010 she was a witness in the prosecution of a number of our activists who broke in to the factory and ‘decommissioned’ it during the Israeli attack on Gaza, Their action was based on legal grounds that EDO was illegally supplying arming units to the Israeli Air force – F-16 weapon system and thereby assisting Israeli war crimes. So she stood up and supported
those people facing ten years in prison accused of a conspiracy to cause £200,000 damage to EDO machinery and computers in the factory. They were all acquitted by a jury. She has stuck her neck out. I don’t know how much further she can do that as an ambitious politician within a party political system, but she’s certainly been a support and the same has been the case with several councillors in the local government. We have the support of many in Brighton but are opposed by the police (on a national level) and central government who have been protecting the company from the beginning, as an extension of protecting their own foreign policy. We’ve tried getting information under the freedom of information act about EDO and they’ve obstructed that for years on grounds of business confidentiality and national security, as have the local police who refuse to release information on their dealing with EDO again on grounds of national security.
IslamTimes: Is Brighton’s economy significantly dependant on the arms trade?
Andrew: No, Brighton’s economy is a service economy. It’s a town where people come spend time as students or on a holiday and is not very industrial. I don’t know the exact figures but the vast majority is hotel, catering, shops, retail and entertainment.
IslamTimes: So you can easily do without the factory?
Andrew: You’re taking about a maximum of 100 jobs. As the figures of the Campaign against the Arms Trade (CAAT) show, each job is publicly subsidised on average to the tune of £12,000 so you could take that money and create 100 jobs each paying £12,000 in any number of more socially beneficial occupations than making weaponry. You could pay EDO’s engineers to make medical equipment. Looking at the recent welfare cuts by the government that have led to deaths of some of our most vulnerable people, there are plenty of other things that this money can be spent on which would be far more socially useful. Continuous military spending, particularly on useless things like nuclear weapons in a time of financial crisis, directly steals from the poor.
IslamTimes: What role are you, as an individual, playing in the movement?
Andrew: Well, my role today is to communicate what we are about to the wider public through press interviews like this. We all share this role and we don’t operate a hierarchical organisation with a spokesperson or leader like some political party. We wish to avoid the creation of political personalities or leaders for the spectacle of TV shows. No-one is seeking election by the public. We are the public – a part of it at least – and we wish to highlight issues and not promote personalities or careers. That’s why you won’t find me on You Tube. I’m just a voice. More importantly, we are now reaching a point with the campaign where we have solid evidence of EDO’s unlawfulness which is being considered by the legal authorities. We are waiting to see how they will respond to that and I think in the next few months there may be developments on that side of the campaign, as well as further direct actions and protests.
IslamTimes: I saw on your website, a campaign called “Target Barclays”. What is that about?
Andrew: That’s an offshoot of the Smash EDO campaign where we seek to make widely known that the banks have a major part in the support for the whole industry. Barclays is the worst UK bank when it comes to investment in arms making and supporting it financially. In the case of EDO, Barclays Bank acts as market maker for parent company ITT Exelis on the stock exchange. They’re not the only bank that is involved, but when it comes to the arms trade as a whole they are probably the worst offender. So we see them as complicit in the same international crimes and atrocities as EDO and the government.
IslamTimes: Are you trying to encourage the people to boycott Barclays?
Andrew: Yes, certainly, we shouldn’t use them unless we are happy with where they invest money.
IslamTimes: Are there any other issues you may want to comment on?
Andrew: The main point I would stress is that we are often maliciously accused by the police and government authorities of being criminally minded, or having a propensity for extremism and violence. This needs to be understood as a smear on behalf of the authorities to justify their extreme suppression of our campaign, and their unquestioning support for EDO in Brighton. They characterise us as sort of unthinking, rioting inarticulate group who don’t actually have any kind of structured or logical argument and say we undermine our moral stance with our own aggression. The truth is we do have a very strong legal argument as well as a geopolitical and moral one, which I think most people would agree with if they understood it, and when we have confronted the police on the street it has always been defensive of our right to express angry dissent against war crimes and atrocities carried out by our government. We will not be contained by them.
Simply having a legal argument and acting within the so called democratic and legal process is no longer enough. We have no illusions that this is the way to succeed in our objective. There’s a legal argument against what the factory are doing assisting international war crimes by the US, UK and NATO powers. But those crimes are actually protected from being prosecuted in the domestic courts in the UK because we have a system what dictates that any matters regarding high policy and going to war are not allowed to be brought up in court. These matters are – we have found – censored by the legal system. Not by some kind of corruption within the judiciary (although they are by no means incorruptible), but by the British constitution itself, which does not even let us talk about them. We can’t just go to court and show EDO has supported the illegal war of aggression in Iraq because it is not even within the domestic court’s jurisdiction.
What we can do is find other things
EDO do which are illegal and can be discussed in court and that’s the way we have been approaching it more recently. So we found evidence of their support of US cluster munitions which are illegal under UK domestic law, not just international law. We also have evidence that they have not been applying for the proper export licenses for the movement of weapons which they need to do to be lawful, and despite these UK international obligations the government is allowing EDO to supply Israeli with military parts and technical support for its war planes, and letting them get away with lying about it, saying they are not doing so, in court cases afterwards. There’s a long list of other unlawful things EDO do that we are only now beginning to uncover. But even so we are not naïve and what we may end up doing, rather than bringing EDO to trial, is just showing how the legal system politically protects them no matter how serious their crimes.
IslamTimes: On this issue of matters being censored in court, a lot of people don’t understand why particular individuals haven’t yet been taken to court over their involvement in the Iraq war – people like George Bush or Tony Blair – although it is fact that no WMD were ever found in Iraq.
Andrew: Constitutionally, as British individuals, we have no recourse to take Tony Blair to court for his obvious crimes. In order to do that, you need to get the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into that war which they have said they are not going to do. The chief prosecutor of the ICC is a pro-American, politically appointed person. He’s obviously not going to do it. I mean it is fine to prosecute African dictators and other political enemies of the US, but because of geopolitics there isn’t a justice system that is fair to everyone– it’s politically controlled. Just look at the way Israel is treated by the UN.
The majority of the countries have objected to the occupation of Palestine for decades but because it’s ultimately controlled by the Security Council and the US veto, nothing has ever happened. It’s the same thing with Britain and the war in Iraq.
That’s just in the international arena. Domestically, the British constitution does not allow individuals to bring these matters in a domestic court because for instance, in the UK we have a constitutional monarchy which is not that different from Iran. We have a “supreme being” – the monarch, who is the ultimate commander in chief of British forces. She would be the person who is the final decision maker. She would legally be the person who made the decision to go to war in the first place, if the legal system allowed her to be prosecuted.
IslamTimes: It’s the queen who decides and not the Prime Minister?
Andrew: It’s all very secretive but the queen is the commander in chief – it’s not the prime minister in Britain. He is not a president. The PM has to get approval from the queen for any military action. So she has that ultimate responsibility, and no one has the power to hold her to account or her advisers or her prime minister. All these people are protected by what are called royal prerogative powers, which are reserved powers, remnants of England’s history of absolute monarchy, which means they are not subject to any parliament or committee of elected representatives, and certainly not to the courts or the will of the people. We are still fighting for democracy in this country.
IslamTimes: Wow – are the people in the UK aware of this?
Andrew: It is not widely discussed. Many people became aware of it in 2003 after everyone went out on the streets to stop the war. They were people who thought they were living in a democracy and they thought they could say no to this war and stop it, but it happened anyway. Many thought it happened because parliament had voted for it and so it was a technically democratic process, but in fact the whole vote in parliament was a sham because the government didn’t need to do that – they have the constitutional authority through these prerogative powers to go to war without any parliamentary approval. Many falsely believe, “Oh we are the most democratic country in the World” – the oldest democracy in the world – but we are not as democratic as a lot of other systems of government, that’s for sure. When such decisions which impact the entire country and millions around the world can be made without any democratic accountability then it’s obvious that the whole idea of democracy is a sham really. That is why we propagate direct action as a valid tactic – not because we are anti-democratic or self-serving criminals. We are ultra-democratic. Direct action is the only way left to exercise democratic will when the legal and political systems are so undemocratic that they prevent that will from even being expressed. So that’s where we come from. We’re not fascists or seeking to ‘overthrow democracy’; rather we are expressing democratic ideals, and seeking to bring them into effect with our own hands.
IslamTimes: I think the future is gloomy unless the UN can come up with a legal system that is fair to all. Do you agree?
Andrew: Yes. The UN needs radical reform, that’s for sure. There needs to be some way in which countries can share the responsibility of global human security and welfare that doesn’t rely on militarism and the self-interest corporate controlled western regimes, or such regimes anywhere for that matter. The Security Council excludes a vast majority of the countries, and allows impunity for the worst state terrorists and war criminals in the relentless pursuit of profit for a few, at the cost of lives and livelihoods of millions around the world.
IslamTimes: Thank you very much for your time Andrew, we appreciate it.