Murray and Galloway lay the blame

Put aside for a moment the almost-certainly coerced “confession” of trespassing and praise for her captors from British seaman Faye Turney.

Consider how easily and reflexively a couple of the antiwar movement’s leading lights blame the victims.

Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan turned Stop the War Coalition star attraction Craig Murray writes on his blog that Iran was fully justified “in detaining foreign military personnel in waters to which they have a legitimate claim” and “[t]he Iranians can feel content that they have demonstrated the ability to exercise effective sovereignty over the waters they claim.”

Having done this, said Murray (apparently unaware that one of the captives is a woman), “the Iranian authorities, their point made, should now hand the men back immediately.”

The official Islamic Republic News Agency liked at least some of Murray’s comments enough to publish a carefully-edited version of them.

Now Murray is claiming:

The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.

So because Iran and Iraq haven’t agreed on a boundary in the Gulf, Iran has a right to seize any ship in what it unilaterally declares its territorial waters?

Can anyone who knows anything about the Law of the Sea make sense of Murray’s claims?

Writing for Socialist Worker, George Galloway naturally puts all the blame for the capture on the UK government:

The capture of the British sailors has all the hallmarks of the kind of incident that has been used in the past as a reason either for war or for escalating confrontation.

In 1949 the British gunboat HMS Amethyst was fired on in the Yangtze river in China. There was much outrage in Britain at Mao’s People’s Liberation Army, which was on the verge of taking power, for shooting at the ship. There was little questioning of what a British ship was doing on a Chinese river.

Whether or not the British sailors were in Iranian waters is disputed. But what is not in dispute is that Britain has joined the US in pouring warships into the Gulf while pressuring and threatening Iran.

Not a word of sympathy or concern for the sailors or their families.

Everywhere you go this week, make sure people are asking: what on earth are British gunboats doing in Iraqi or Iranian waters in a place called the Arabian or Persian Gulf thousands of miles from home?

In case Galloway really doesn’t know, they are operating under a United Nations mandate. But after the sickening video of Faye Turney, I have a feeling that’s not what people are going to be asking.

David T adds

Philosopher-king, Chris Bertram says:

I found Murray’s discussion of the problem of maritime boundaries – in which he draws on his own experience of negotiations – very interesting. His point about the detention being correct is simply that any state that allowed “trespassers” over disputed territory to which it was laying claim would be in danger of making a concession in the dispute. A token interception and rebuke is just the diplomatic equivalent of a Tom-cat spraying – Murray is saying this it was OK for the Iranians to do that, but stupid and excessive and escalatory for them to do more.

AFAICS there has been no detailed attempt to refute Murray’s claims in this thread or anywhere else, by anyone who actually knows what they are talking about. Instead, there’s the usual bunch of blowhards calling people names.

Another Brett responds:

I’ve done a bit of research on this boundary issue and Galloway and Murray are wrong. While it is true that the maritime borders are not demarcated, the baselines used by Iran to determine its maritime borders are not accepted by any other country in the Gulf and contravene the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Seas. Iran is a signatory to the Convention and is obliged to obey it under international law. If there is an argument over the boundary, as Murray claims, then the IRGC units are as guilty as the British navy in entering disputed waters.

Murray is absolutely wrong – the maritime borders were not imposed by the British government, they were drawn up by the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein. The present Iraqi government has accepted the territorial borders demarcated by the Saddam regime. As foreign forces are there on a UN mandate, they are obliged to defend Iraqi territory.

Even if one accepts the Iranian boundary, Iran is still not permitted to arrest these personnel. If the military forces or civilians of another state violate territorial waters, the first action by the Iranian would be to ask them to leave. These kind of border violations are usually solved by border officials, not by gunboats. Iran has previously abided by this convention by requesting that Azerbaijani boats crossing into territorial waters claimed by Iran in the Caspian Sea leave the area, which they do. Murray should know this, having worked as a diplomat in the region. Moreover, the naval personnel were not belligerent – their light weaponry could not even be used to take out one IRGC boat.

Iran does have a defence, if its territorial claims could be backed by international law (which does not appear to be the case). While military units do have the right to innocent passage through territorial waters, the British naval personnel were not in the process of passage and Iran could argue that they were not innocent. Nevertheless, they would still be obliged to request the personnel to leave in the first instance.

The rights and the wrongs of the Iraq War do not enter into the equations. If Murray and Galloway want to justify these arrests by supporting Iran’s spurious legal claims, they are going to lose the argument. Moreover, it makes you wonder whether they are simply spokesmen for a corrupt and despotic regime.

It is surprising that Murray – who rightly condemned Uzbekistan’s atrocious human rights record and the practice of rendition – would seek to defend a regime with an atrocious human rights record and which kidnaps and assassinates civilians living abroad.

Update: It seems the Islamic Republic News Agency has assigned someone to scan the British media and blogosphere looking for people willing to excuse the Iranian regime’s behavior.

(Hat tip: Bert Preast)