Book Review: Breaking All the Rules

By Vijay Rajiva

Breaking All the Rules by Francis Boyle (Clarity Press, March 2008)

This book, based on the Bertrand Russell Foundation Lectures at McMaster University, Canada by Dr. Francis Boyle lives up to the reputation of this respected international lawyer and well regarded activist.

Dr. Boyle who teaches at the University of Illinois focuses on the two large issues of our times, starting with the issue of Israel’s violations of International Law and its attacks on the Palestinian people at both the physical and legal levels. The second is George Bush’s attacks on civil rights in the U.S. and his war on the international community. The first and the second are linked and represent the central point of the book.

But Dr. Boyle does not stop at analysis. He proceeds vigorously to outline the steps that the international community can and should take to deal with the two problems. In the case of Israel, activism at all levels but especially the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement which he helped start in Nov. 2000.

This book is a valuable compendium of the legal aspects of the two problems, the Israeli and Bush administration violations of human rights and law. The book is divided into two main parts: the Israeli-Palestinian question and the impeachment of George Bush.

At the conclusion of each segment there is a question and answer period where Dr. Boyle clarifies and amplifies his material in response to specific questions. There are relevant and valuable appendixes and a lengthy, comprehensive list of organizations and groups involved with the Palestinian question. Both sections have the further interest in providing vignettes of the author’s personal journey in finding and sticking with the causes that he served and continues to serve.

His early inspiration seems to have been the work and ideals of Bertrand Russell, notably the path breaking Tribunal which as Dr. Boyle observes was important in turning public opinion against the Vietnam war and the Russell/Einstein Manifesto on Nuclear Weapons, the seminal event as Dr. Boyle describes it in the anti nuclear movement.

It is understandable then that Breaking All the Rules begins with a Russell quotation that cuts to the heart of the Israeli engagement with the Palestinians:

“For over twenty years” said Russell writing in 1970 “Israel has expanded by force of arms. After every stage in this expansion Israel has appealed to ‘reason’ and has suggested ‘negotiations’. This is the traditional way of the imperial power because it wishes to consolidate with the least difficulty what has already been taken by violence. Every new conquest becomes the new basis of proposed negotiations from strengths, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression.”

Peace and Palestine

Dr. Boyle tells us that this was his experience when working as legal advisor to the Palestinian Delegation from 1991-1993. He was convinced quite early on that the only way for peace in the Middle East was for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and admission to the UN. He stated this publicly in 1987 and worked with the PLO Delegation to draft the Declaration of Independence.

He draws our attention to what is not widely known, namely that the PLO advanced the idea of the Peace Initiative as part of their Declaration. Hence, it was not the US that started the peace process, as is commonly thought. In the Political Communiqué of the Palestinian National Council, the Declaration also made a firm commitment to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the policies and principles of Non-Alignment.

The events leading up to President Arafat’s decision to sign the Oslo Accord of 1993 are only briefly touched upon as both the background and the legal basis of the Declaration are fully dealt with in Dr. Boyle’s earlier work of 2003, Palestine, Palestinians and International Law. In Nov.30 he publicly called for the establishment of an international campaign of divestment and disinvestment vis-à-vis Israel, similar to the campaign against former apartheid South Africa in which he had been actively involved along with his defence of anti apartheid protest cases which he explains in his book Defending Civil Resistance Under International Law.

Of special interest is the brief discussion of the United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution 377. This is the famous Uniting for Peace Resolution which over rules the veto of the Security Council. Dr. Boyle drafted the memorandum for the PLO, which was used 16 times, including in the summer of 2006.

Impeaching Bush

The second half of the book is devoted to the question of the national movement in the US to impeach George W. Bush and those around him who were associated with his foreign policy. There is a brief account of the author’s involvement with the impeachment process (along with fellow lawyer Ramsey Clark) which he had first initiated. We see clearly the complicity of the Democrats in stalling, delaying and ultimately relegating the bill for impeachment to oblivion, which Cynthia McKinney, herself a Democrat, had courageously submitted to the House before she stepped down.

Bush’s foreign policy generally, says Dr. Boyle, is a deviation from International Law. It has specific components of criminal activity both under well recognized principles of International Law and US Domestic policy, the Nuremberg Charter, the Nuremberg Judgment, the Nuremberg Principles and the US Army Field Manual 27-10 on The Law of Land Warfare which is applicable to Bush as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, under the United States Constitution.

The international crimes typically include but are not limited to the Nuremberg offences of “crimes against peace”, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and today in Somalia. They also include “crimes against humanity” and war crimes as well as grave breaches of the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the 1907 Hague Regulations on land warfare, torture at Guantanamo, Bhagram, Abu Ghraib, disappearances, assassinations, murder and kidnappings.

The actors embroiled in this Legal Nihilism are those at the top of the criminal chain of command, Bush and Cheney, and as well the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, Directory of National Defence, National Security Advisor, the Attorney General and the Pentagon Chiefs of Staff.

The neocon philosophy of dominance and racial superiority is demonstrated in their policies towards Muslims, Arabs, Asians and Africans. The civil war in Iraq, ethnic cleansing and the carving up of Iraq are standing examples.

Dr. Boyle, is also an activist and hence Breaking All the Rules ends with an exhortation to his fellow citizens to protest (and defeat) Legal Nihilism whether at the international level or at the domestic  level of the violation of civil rights with mass protests, demonstrations, and civil resistance, as happened during the Vietnam era. Hence, the book ends on a note of optimism, at the power and possibilities that ordinary citizens have to turn the tide of injustice and restore law and justice to our world.

– Dr. Vijaya Rajiva taught Political Philosophy. She contributed this article to

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