The truths they never tell us
by John Pilger (November 2001)
behind the jargon about failed states and humanitarian interventions lie thousands of deadPolite society's bombers may not have to wait long for round two. The US vice-president, Dick Cheney, warned last week that America could take action against '40 to 50 countries'. Somalia, allegedly a 'haven' for al-Qaeda, joins Iraq at the top of a list of potential targets. Cheered by having replaced Afghanistan's bad terrorists with America's good terrorists, the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has asked the Pentagon to 'think the unthinkable', having rejected its 'post-Afghanistan options' as 'not radical enough'.
An American attack on Somalia, wrote the Guardian's man at the Foreign Office, 'would offer an opportunity to settle an old score: 18 US soldiers were brutally killed there in 1993...' He neglected to mention that the US Marines left between 7,000 and 10,000 Somali dead, according to the CIA. Eighteen American lives are worthy of score-settling; thousands of Somali lives are not.
Somalia will provide an ideal practice run for the final destruction of Iraq. However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, Iraq presents a 'dilemma', because 'few targets remain'. 'We're down to the last outhouse,' said a US official, referring to the almost daily bombing of Iraq that is not news. Having survived the 1991 Gulf war, Saddam Hussein's grip on Iraq has since been reinforced by one of the most ruthless blockades in modern times, policed by his former amours and arms suppliers in Washington and London. Safe in his British-built bunkers, Saddam will survive a renewed blitz - unlike the Iraqi people, held hostage to the compliance of their dictator to America's ever-shifting demands.
In this country, veiled propaganda will play its usual leading role. As so much of the Anglo-American media is in the hands of various guardians of approved truths, the fate of both the Iraqi and Somali peoples will be reported and debated on the strict premise that the US and British governments are against terrorism. Like the attack on Afghanistan, the issue will be how 'we' can best deal with the problem of 'uncivilised' societies.
The most salient truth will remain taboo. This is that the longevity of America as both a terrorist state and a haven for terrorists surpasses all. That the US is the only state on record to have been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism and has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on governments to observe international law is unmentionable. Recently, Denis Halliday, the former assistant secretary general of the UN who resigned rather than administer what he described as a 'genocidal sanctions policy' on Iraq, incurred the indignation of the BBC's Michael Buerk. 'You can't possibly draw a moral equivalence between Saddam Hussein and George Bush Senior , can you?' said Buerk. Halliday was taking part in one of the moral choice programmes that Buerk comperes, and had referred to the needless slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqis, mostly civilians, by the Americans during the Gulf war. He pointed out that many were buried alive, and that depleted uranium was used widely, almost certainly the cause of an epidemic of cancer in southern Iraq.
That the recent history of the west's true crimes makes Saddam Hussein 'an amateur', as Halliday put it, is the unmentionable; and because there is no rational rebuttal of such a truth, those who mention it are abused as 'anti-American'. Richard Falk, professor of international politics at Princeton, has explained this. Western foreign policy, he says, is propagated in the media 'through a self-righteous, one-way moral/legal screen with positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence'.
The ascendancy of Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and associates Richard Perle and Elliot Abrams means that much of the world is now threatened openly by a geopolitical fascism, which has been developing since 1945 and has accelerated since 11 September.
The present Washington gang are authentic American fundamentalists. They are the heirs of John Foster Dulles and Alan Dulles, the Baptist fanatics who, in the 1950s, ran the State Department and the CIA respectively, smashing reforming governments in country after country - Iran, Iraq, Guatemala - tearing up international agreements, such as the 1954 Geneva accords on Indochina, whose sabotage by John Foster Dulles led directly to the Vietnam war and five million dead. Declassified files now tell us the United States twice came within an ace of using nuclear weapons.
The parallels are there in Cheney's threat to '40 to 50' countries, and of war 'that may not end in our lifetimes'. The vocabulary of justification for this militarism has long been provided on both sides of the Atlantic by those factory 'scholars' who have taken the humanity out of the study of nations and congealed it with a jargon that serves the dominant power. Poor countries are 'failed states'; those that oppose America are 'rogue states'; an attack by the west is a 'humanitarian intervention'. (One of the most enthusiastic bombers, Michael Ignatieff, is now 'professor of human rights' at Harvard). And as in Dulles's time, the United Nations is reduced to a role of clearing up the debris of bombing and providing colonial 'protectorates'.
The twin towers attacks provided Bush's Washington with both a trigger and a remarkable coincidence. Pakistan's former foreign minister Niaz Naik has revealed that he was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by the middle of October. The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, was then travelling in central Asia, already gathering support for an anti-Afghanistan war 'coalition'. For Washington, the real problem with the Taliban was not human rights; these were irrelevant. The Taliban regime simply did not have total control of Afghanistan: a fact that deterred investors from financing oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea, whose strategic position in relation to Russia and China and whose largely untapped fossil fuels are of crucial interest to the Americans. In 1998, Dick Cheney told oil industry executives: 'I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.'
Indeed, when the Taliban came to power in 1996, not only were they welcomed by Washington, their leaders were flown to Texas, then governed by George W Bush, and entertained by executives of the Unocal oil company. They were offered a cut of the profits from the pipelines; 15 per cent was mentioned. A US official observed that, with the Caspian's oil and gas flowing, Afghanistan would become 'like Saudi Arabia', an oil colony with no democracy and the legal persecution of women. 'We can live with that,' he said. The deal fell through when two American embassies in East Africa were bombed and al-Qaeda was blamed.
The Taliban duly moved to the top of the media's league table of demons, where the normal exemptions apply. For example, Vladimir Putin's regime in Moscow, the killers of at least 20,000 people in Chechnya, is exempt. Last week, Putin was entertained by his new 'close friend', George W Bush, at Bush's Texas ranch.
Bush and Blair are permanently exempt - even though more Iraqi children die every month, mostly as a result of the Anglo-American embargo, than the total number of dead in the twin towers, a truth that is not allowed to enter public consciousness. The killing of Iraqi infants, like the killing of Chechens, like the killing of Afghan civilians, is rated less morally abhorrent than the killing of Americans.
As one who has seen a great deal of bombing, I have been struck by the capacity of those calling themselves 'liberals' and 'progressives' wilfully to tolerate the suffering of innocents in Afghanistan. What do these self-regarding commentators, who witness virtually nothing of the struggles of the outside world, have to say to the families of refugees bombed to death in the dusty town of Gardez the other day, long after it fell to anti-Taliban forces? What do they say to the parents of dead children whose bodies lay in the streets of Kunduz last Sunday? 'Forty people were killed,' said Zumeray, a refugee. 'Some of them were burned by the bombs, others were crushed by the walls and roofs of their houses when they collapsed from the blast.' What does the Guardian's Polly Toynbee say to him: 'Can't you see that bombing works?' Will she call him anti-American? What do 'humanitarian interventionists' say to people who will die or be maimed by the 70,000 American cluster bomblets left unexploded?
For several weeks, the Observer, a liberal newspaper, has published unsubstantiated reports that have sought to link Iraq with 11 September and the anthrax scare. 'Whitehall sources' and 'intelligence sources' are the main tellers of this story. 'The evidence is mounting...' said one of the pieces. The sum of the 'evidence' is zero, merely grist for the likes of Wolfowitz and Perle and probably Blair, who can be expected to go along with the attack. In his essay 'The Banality of Evil', the great American dissident Edward Herman described the division of labour among those who design and produce weapons like cluster bombs and daisy cutters and those who take the political decisions to use them and those who create the illusions that justify their use. 'It is the function of the experts, and the mainstream media,' he wrote, 'to normalise the unthinkable for the general public.' It is time journalists reflected upon this, and took the risk of telling the truth about an unconscionable threat to much of humanity that comes not from faraway places, but close to home.
- The New Statesman (26 November 2001)