Tag Archives: law

In war the law is dumb

Silent enim leger inter arma

Possibly the most used historical quotation in many tongues is the opening of Psalm 46: ‘God is our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ 

Variations of these words, or very similar heartfelt sentiments, have been voiced by frightened soldiers – and not a few civilians faced with death and destruction – for over 4000 years. It makes the point that, after the elemental forces of nature, it is war that most scares humanity – and rightly so. Fear has ever been the universal emotion of the battlefield. Perhaps that is why mankind over the centuries has tried to limit war and control its bloody excesses. However, when societies elect to sort out their political, social and economic problems by resorting to violence, killing people and breaking things, in Cicero’s famous quotation, ‘silent enim leger inter arma‘ or (in its English translation) ‘In war the law is dumb.’

One of the ironies of history has been the urge to try and control behaviour that is by definition almost uncontrollable. Although mankind has tried to devise ‘rules’ for fighting and killing one another en masse, the truth remains that war is still nothing more than legalised murder. After the horrors of the Thirty Years War, Europeans desperately sought to find laws to channel and limit the excesses of the brutal soldiery. But the French Revolution and ‘the nation in arms’ period changed all that. Out went the 18th-century constraints of limited war leading to the full horrors of industrial war. A fight to the death between whole nations and societies was gradually unleashed, finding their ultimate expression on the Eastern Front in World War II, in the indiscriminate fire-bombings of Dresden and Tokyo and, finally, with the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

One effect of mankind’s new ability to obliterate and destroy on an unimaginable scale has been to encourage a new phenomenon: an increased attempt to try and control and limit war by the imposition of laws. Today, certainly in the West, we have teams of lawyers telling soldiers and generals what they can and cannot do on the battlefield. In modern warfare the law – and its all-pervasive lawyers – seem anything but dumb. Calls to indict Putin as a war criminal have eerie echoes of 1918’s ‘Hang the Kaiser!’ and overlook the massive industrial butchery of civilians from the air perfected by the RAF and USAAF by 1945. No nation has clean hands when it comes to the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians: ask the Uighars or the hapless Burmese Muslims. Even Britain has to explain away its legal right to go to war in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan (among other examples). A ‘UN Mandate’ is a legal right only to those who agree, as Korea made plain.

Indignant, liberal western media rarely asks the key question: by whose law and on what authority do they call for selective legal vengeance on some aggressors? They forget the killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, let alone the fact that Russia has never signed up to the Rome Convention, setting up the International War Crimes Court. Nor, significantly, has the USA.  

So, anyone who expects the Russians, a proud people, to hand over their Vozhd to decadent western lawyers needs to lie down in a darkened room. Whoever fails to see echoes of the Danzig Corridor in the seizure of the Marienpol–Donbas corridor, or genuinely expects to see Russia give up its link with its only Black Sea maritime naval nuclear base in the Crimea, needs to take lessons in realpolitik and history.

The irony remains that, for those enemies waging their asymmetric campaigns against Western liberal democratic states, ‘the law’ and lawyers are the last thing they ever care about. They just want to slaughter, maim and destroy for their cause, be it territory, populations or greedy economic advantage. Mankind’s atavistic catalysts for conflicts have never gone away. Lawyers’ howls of protest or not, the old Roman was right. It was ever thus. 

Truly the reality remains: in war – real, all-out war, à l’outrance – ‘the law; remains as dumb as ever.

EOKA’s Latest Outrage

On 23 January 2019 the UK government reached an out-of-court settlement for £1 million for 33 elderly EOKA-era plaintiffs, who claimed they were tortured by British security services whilst being held in custody during the Cyprus Emergency (1955-9). All were arrested as terrorists by the British for their involvement with Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) or EOKA.

The Greek-Cypriots filed their legal claim in 2015 after Foreign Office documents revealed claims of abuse during the Eoka terror campaign. Justice Kerr of the Queen’s Bench Division ruled for the claimants: ‘A state stands to be held to account for acts of violence against its citizens, it should be held to account, in its own courts, by its own law.’

The sense of outrage at this settlement has united both British veterans of the 1955-9 ‘Emergency’ and Turkish-Cypriots alike. Whilst the claimants beamed for their group photograph outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, they knew – as do the Turkish-Cypriots and the British – that this one-sided legal decision overlooked the far more numerous murders and atrocities committed by EOKA back in the 1950s. The smiles masked the blood on Greek-Cypriot hands: EOKA didn’t just torture and intimidate, the organisation was nothing more than a reincarnation of ‘Murder Inc.’

The story really starts in 1950, when Bishop Makarios, who later became the Ethnarch or leader of the Greek Cypriot Orthodox church, swore a holy oath with a Greek colonel called Georgios Grivas, who had been born on Cyprus, to bring Cyprus back to the Motherland (i.e. Greece). The majority Greek-Cypriot population of Cyprus supported the idea; they wanted union with Greece, or Enosis. The soldier and the priest planned to make Cyprus ‘Greek’ by getting rid of its other inhabitants via terrorism: the battle cry was ‘first the British and then the Turks.’

Grivas formed his underground group – EOKA – with a right-wing ideology, which made it the exception to the rule of post-World War II insurgencies, as it was not a communist-led rebellion. Eoka has more in common with the Jewish Irgun and Stern murder gangs of late-1940s Palestine.

In 1955 Grivas launched his insurgency with anti-British riots. Then, when EOKA escalated to a series of terrorist attacks, the Governor of Cyprus, Sir John Harding, declared a state of emergency.

Harding realised that intelligence was the key to snuffing out the rebellion. However this presented a major problem: Grivas enjoyed the support of the majority of the Greek-Cypriot population and so information was sparse. Most Greek-Cypriots either supported EOKA or were too frightened to speak out for fear of reprisals. EOKA made sure of this by terrorising its own population through a campaign of intimidation against the Greek-Cypriot members of the police force and their families.

This forced the British to rely increasingly on Turkish-Cypriot policemen who could provide little intelligence about Greek-Cypriot intentions. Hiding in plain sight amongst the Greek population, EOKA’s 1250 members prospered despite the efforts of the security forces. At least 371 British servicemen died during the EOKA period, of which about 200 were murdered. However, Grivas’s ‘Freedom Fighters’ cast their murderous net much wider than the colonial power only. The Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot populations suffered far more than the British from their blood-thirsty countrymen. During the ‘Emergency’, EOKA killed 679 Cypriot men aged 18-59; 72 women aged 18-59; 130 men and women over 60; and 132 under-18 boys and girls. Suddenly EOKA’s veterans don’t look quite so heroic. Gunning down your own defenceless women and children in cold blood usually doesn’t rate an award for heroism.

Inevitably the British reacted to this dirty underhand war. Interrogation centres manned by Special Branch and Intelligence officers swiftly became bywords for rough handling of detainees – and sometimes worse.

Allegations of ill treatment surfaced early. Seventy years ago interrogation methods were harsh. The need to obtain tactical information quickly soon led to allegations of abuse in what became a very dirty war. On 26 May 1957, London’s Sunday Dispatch newspaper ran a major exposure of British methods in Cyprus, claiming that detainees had been ill-treated or tortured by British interrogators.

It pointed to the case of Nikos Sampson, the leader of EOKA’s Ledra Street murder gang, whose track record of cold-blooded murders of soldiers and civilians alike earned Nicosia’s main shopping street the nickname of ‘Murder Mile.’ However, Sampson’s well-justified conviction for murder was overturned on appeal by Judge Bernard Shaw, who ruled that Sampson’s confession was inadmissible as it had been made under duress. The smirking EOKA killer walked free from prison.

Another case was the assault and beating in custody of EOKA member Joannis Christoforou, who was stripped naked, beaten with planks, suffered broken ribs and extensive bruising. The case against him was dismissed.

One woman, known only as ‘Mrs XY’ and now in her 70s, on being suspected of being an EOKA member was taken from her home by Turkish-Cypriot police in 1956 and raped. She was then taken to a police station, beaten during interrogation and ‘pushed between her tormentors like a ball’, before passing out. At one point a noose was tied around her neck and tightened. The inescapable conclusion is that some British interrogators broke the law in their attempts to glean intelligence.

However, at least the British have admitted their excesses.

Not so the Greek-Cypriots. Sadly, the myth of EOKA’s ‘heroic warriors’ in the Liberation Struggle has grown over the years. Today’s young generation of Greek-Cypriots know little about the crimes committed by EOKA against both Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots. The truth is that Greek-Cypriots refuse to admit their own grandfathers’ murderous crimes, even long after the British had departed.

The massacres of Turkish-Cypriots committed by Greek-Cypriots continued from 1963 to 1964, after the ‘Emergency’ ended, and even after the Greek coup in 1974. This truth is whitewashed from Greek histories.

The slaughter of 126 Turkish-Cypriots – the majority women and elderly people – from three Turkish-Cypriot villages (Maratha, Santalari and Aloa), as well as the execution of 84 civilian Turkish-Cypriots from the village of Tochni in August 1974 by EOKA, ranks with the Nazi atrocities at Lidice and Oradur.

However, Greek apologists refuse to admit the bloody truth; but the concealed statistics for the Greek-Cypriot deaths tell their own story. UN statistics for the period 1963-74 record at least 133. This is clearly an underestimate, based only on reported murders. Overall, the Cyprus High Commission information booklet gives a total figure of 3000 dead and 1400 missing for 1974 alone, bringing the Greek-Cypriot total for the period 1955-74 to 4833, the majority at the hands of fellow Greeks.

The truth is that the settlement with the EOKA-linked claimants is a one-sided affair. It represents a bargain for the UK, because it suppresses discussion in open court of any unpleasant facts. However it sets a precedent. The question now is, when will EOKA compensate the relatives of those Greek, Turk and British victims they murdered in cold blood? EOKA veterans openly boast of their murderous exploits; so who will be bringing a court case to sue those who gunned down a doctor like Surgeon-Captain Gordon Wilson, or defenceless women like Mrs Catherine Cutliffe, for their bloody deeds? The one-sided settlement with EOKA is an outrage, as it ignores far worse crimes admitted by the Greek-Cypriots’ EOKA killers.

So, as they celebrate their legal victory in the EOKA Veterans’ clubs, the stench of hypocrisy rivals the celebratory Ouzo. And what did they achieve? Nothing. The ultimate irony is that EOKA failed. Not only was there no Enosis, but Greek-Cypriots failed to achieve proper independence either. Having been ruled by foreigners for 3000 years, Makarios and EOKA only managed to rule a united Cyprus for three, from 1960 to 1963.

Was it all worth EOKA’s many murders?