The BAE Systems 2018 annual general meeting descended into turmoil after various campaigners representing the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) hijacked the event demanding answers for the liberal use of BAE weapons on schools and hospitals in Yemen.
CAAT campaigners and activist Sam Walton protested the annual conference, leading to Walton ending up in the back of a police van and chairman Roger Carr ending the meeting by apologising for it being ‘taken up by other issues’.
Here’s a picture of me being carried out of the AGM of @BAESystemsInc.
I told them that people in #Yemen see them as war-criminals.
The chair of BAE asked me if I wanted to be thrown out.
I said it would be an honour to be ejected from a room of people complicit in war crimes. pic.twitter.com/q1wKiQDyEq
— Sam Walton (@SamWalton) May 10, 2018
I’m in a van after being thrown out of the annual meeting of BAE Systems.
— Sam Walton (@SamWalton) May 10, 2018
Walton and the group of Quakers he represents have a proud history of disrupting UK military-industrial activities, particularly relating to BAE Systems. Back in February 2017 Walton was arrested for invading a BAE Lancashire airbase and attempting to smash Saudi-destined aircraft with a hammer. The hammering of military equipment is an important symbol in Christian anti-war movements owing to a passage in Isaiah – ‘and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares’. The Ploughshare movement are still active in the UK and US.
A vicar who owns shares in the company also had serious questions about BAE’s Saudi bedfellows, remaining unconvinced by Carr’s assertion that the ‘partnership in Saudi Arabia ends up helping positive change’. The vicar, who was unnamed by CAAT, brought attention to the recent bombing of a wedding where the bride and 20 other civilians were slaughtered, and rightly identified the use of BAE weapons to commit crimes of war in Yemen. Carr had no answer to this other than appreciating ‘the spirit and depth of [his]belief’.
Highlights of the various other interruptions included a Bahraini man demanding an acknowledgement of the damage caused by BAE Tactica armed vehicles in quashing 2011 pro-democracy protests, to which Carr excused himself as he was not at the company at the time, and a question about whether BAE would consider cancelling the TF-X aircraft program with Turkey considering that they are conspicuously using British aircraft to kill civilians, including a British citizen. Carr refused to answer this or take any more questions.
Activists paraded the work of Ahmed Jahaf throughout the meeting, a Yemeni artist who depicts the innocuous children, mothers and innocent men who have inadvertently ended up in the Saudi coalition line of fire.
Andrew Smith, CAAT
‘If BAE is actually interested in stopping the terrible consequences of war, then the least it could do is put procedures in place to monitor the use of its weapons and ensure that they aren’t being used against civilian targets.
‘The reason that BAE doesn’t know if its weapons were used in the bombing of the wedding in Yemen is because it doesn’t want to know. Its entire business model is based on perpetual war.
‘To ask questions or to take any kind of moral stance would be to jeopardise its position as a major arms exporter.’
BAE have generously stocked Saudi warehouses with £43 billion worth of weapons since 1984 to help fulfil Saudi ambitions to steamroll their considerably less wealthy southern neighbours as part of the Al Yamamah deal negotiated under a Margaret Thatcher government. It is paid for with 400,000-600,000 barrels of Saudi crude oil every single day, fixed against oil price fluctuations, altering somewhere between the floor and cap of this range depending on the phase of the contract being undertaken.
Despite the discovery of several slush funds belonging to key Saudi representatives and BAE officials, an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into Al Yamamah was shut down by Tony Blair’s Attorney General Peter Goldsmith for ‘compromising national security’. BAE Systems rose above the reach of British law that day in 2006 and have not looked back since, overseeing the expansion of their relationship with the Saudi monarchy undeterred by such inconveniences as judicial oversight.
BAE have managed to bag another £4.6 billion of Saudi contracts since the invasion of Yemen began; the company now represents 0.6% of the entire British economy, probably rising to about 60% after Brexit.
Remarkably, this was only the second most evil decision Peter Goldsmith made in his six years as Attorney General, with the number one sport reserved for his botched legal justification for the Iraq War, which the Chilcot inquiry of 2016 declared was ‘far from satisfactory’. The daddy of half-arsed legal cases improvised to justify depraved military profiteering Goldsmith now makes millions working for Debevoise & Plimpton in New York and chairs the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, if you were wondering whether justice was ever served.