Harold Pinter cutting through the official lies

•July 30, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Harold Pinter

[Closing comment on the Iraq wars and US imperial policy in general by the late great English playwright Harold Pinter in his great, and under-reported, Nobel Prize speech delivered 10 years ago, three years before he died. This speech (this here is merely an extract, the whole is available at the official Nobel Prize website) deserves widest possible dissemination. It cuts through so much media and dinner conversation bullshit with the powerful words of a great writer.]

from: Harold Pinter, ‘Art, Truth and Politics’, lecture on receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature 2005

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory [the problematic territory of truth-telling in art] since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it. […]

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It’s a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.’

It’s a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it’s very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what’s called the ‘international community’. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be ‘the leader of the free world’. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally – a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man’s land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You’re either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they’re interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. ‘We don’t do body counts,’ said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. ‘A grateful child,’ said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. ‘When do I get my arms back?’ he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn’t holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you’re making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm’s way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, ‘I’m Explaining a Few Things':

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.

And you will ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!*

Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda’s poem I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as ‘full spectrum dominance’. That is not my term, it is theirs. ‘Full spectrum dominance’ means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don’t quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity – the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons – is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government’s actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force – yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man’s man.

‘God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden’s God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam’s God was bad, except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don’t chop people’s heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don’t you forget it.’

A writer’s life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don’t have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection – unless you lie – in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called ‘Death’.

Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?

Who was the dead body?

Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?

Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?

Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?

Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.

Iraq 3: War and Occupation 2003 ff

•July 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment


[Last essay on the recent history of Iraq’s destruction. All endnote sources cut out by WordPress. All information taken from publicly available sources in print media, especially Sydney Morning Herald, and online.]

The Second Iraq War and Occupation 2003 ff

The war in Iraq is the most important liberal, revolutionary US democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. It is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.
– Thomas Friedman, The New York Times, c. 2003

The charges in the indictment that the defendants planned and waged aggressive wars are charges of the utmost gravity. War is essentially an evil thing. (…). To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
– from the Nuremberg Judgment of Nazi leaders/war criminals in 1945

I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today’s lesson: don’t rape, don’t torture, don’t kill, and get out while you can – while it still looks like you have a choice…Chaos? Civil war? We’ll take our chances – just take your puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.
– Young Iraqi woman at the Baghdad Burning blog in May 7, 2004

Before the US/British/Australian invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003, many academic experts in international law warned of its illegality. In September 2004 UN Secretary General Kofi Annan agreed and expressed the opinion that the US/British invasion of Iraq in 2003 was illegal under international law. The relevant international laws against wars of aggression (as ‘crimes against peace’) that the Iraq invasion and occupation breached are the Kellog-Briand Pact of 1928, the London Treaty of 1945 (which established the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal) and the 1945 United Nations Charter, Article 2 Clause 4.

The US/British/Australian official legal position on the invasion was that it was necessary as a ‘preventive’ measure to stop Saddam Hussein’s potential use of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and to enforce UN Security Council resolution 1441 which threatened ‘serious consequences’ for Iraq’s alleged failure to disarm. However, the latter resolution was passed unanimously precisely because it seemed to keep the Security Council (not the US) in charge and did not (by, for example, threatening ‘all necessary means’ or other diplomatic terms for actual military intervention) authorize the use of military force. The blatant lie of there being links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda (contradicted by western intelligence agencies themselves) was also publicly propagated or repeatedly implied by key US administration officials, including President Bush and Vice-President Cheney.

As for the ‘preventive war’ argument: ex-UN weapons inspector in Iraq Scott Ritter stated before the invasion that almost all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been eliminated, and this was confirmed when the invasion and occupation failed to find any at all. In late 2003 it was revealed that Saddam had proposed to give Bush and Blair almost everything they purportedly wanted in order to prevent an invasion: proof that Iraq was not linked to September 11, permission for several thousand US troops or the FBI to enter Iraq and look for weapons of mass destruction wherever they wanted to, acceptance of internationally monitored elections within two years, support for the US position on Israel and Palestine, even rights over Iraqi oil. All this was kept from the public.

Overwhelming evidence thus points to the pre-war ‘weapons of mass destruction’ argument as being purely and simply an utterly mendacious pretext for military intervention and the setting up of US bases in Iraq. Bush Vice-President Cheney, in his previous role as Defense Secretary under Bush Sr., already wanted to invade and occupy Iraq after the first Gulf War in 1991 but was over-ruled at the time. His policy was then elaborated in 1999 by the right-wing think-tank Project for a New American Century he co-founded (and the members of which also included other key Bush Jr. administration officials like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz). In 2001 Rumsfeld initially attempted to use the September 11 terrorist attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq but no al-Qaeda/Saddam link could be established. The invasion and control of Iraq, its immense oil wealth and geo-strategic importance was thus in fact an early, and even at times publicly stated (e.g. by Wolfowitz), intention of key members of the right-wing Bush administration.

Further evidence of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ pretext is contained in a memo of a two hour meeting in January 2003 between President Bush and close ally British PM Tony Blair: this revealed that Bush made it clear that he would invade Iraq ‘whether or not there was a second UN resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons program’; a second UN resolution would merely be an ‘insurance policy’ providing ‘international cover’ and ‘diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around military planning.’ Contrary to the public ‘spin’ given about the September 11 surprise and the Saddam threat, George Tenet, CIA director from 1997 to 2004, revealed that early CIA warnings about Osama bin Laden had received a lukewarm reception in the White House throughout most of 2001 and that ‘there was never any serious debate that I know of within the Administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat’.

One year before the actual invasion, the Australian ambassador to the UN Dauth also knew of its certainty: he told the Australian Wheat Board chairman Flugge that the Howard government would participate in a US invasion of Iraq, even while Prime Minister Howard continued to publicly lie that he was ‘still considering’ his government’s actions. (The Australian Wheat Board was at the time involved in financially supporting the officially demonised Saddam Hussein regime by paying its officials a mere $290 million in bribes in order to facilitate the sale of Australian wheat. The Australian government of course denied all official knowledge of these payments.)

After the invasion in 2003, US and British forces occupying Iraq arbitrarily detained, killed and tortured civilians, committing war crimes which violate articles 17, 18, 33 and 147 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. In fighting Iraqi insurgents, both US and British forces continued to break international rules of war by using cluster bombs and shells in urban areas at great cost to civilians: in 2003 even Iraqi government officials accused US forces of dropping cluster bombs on Baghdad and Hilla, killing 47 civilians and wounding 166.

In April 2004 the city of Falluja, an area of fierce resistance, was completely devastated by the US military. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 civilians were left in the city during the attack. White phosphorous, a chemical weapon, was used, as were ‘thermobaric novel explosives’ (NE) or ‘fuel-air’ weapons (also used by the Russian military in Chechnya) that barbarically kill by fireball, oxygen depletion and/or overpressure. The US Marines ‘leveled thousands of buildings, illegally denied access to the Iraqi Red Crescent, and, according to the UN’s special rapporteur, also used ‘hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population.’ While hospitals reported 600 dead and 1,700 wounded, at least half of them women, children and the elderly, there was no western corporate media reporting or outrage at this attack.

An undisclosed internal report obtained by The Washington Post by a Major-General Bargewell on the massacre and rape of two dozen civilians by US marines in Haditha in November 2005 critically stated the obvious: although the marines were now facing court martial trials, marine officers had shown no interest whatsoever in investigating allegations of a massacre, the reason of course being

“Statements made by the chain of command during interviews for this investigation, taken as a whole, suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as US lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the marines need to get ‘the job done’ no matter what it takes.”

Three years after the invasion, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis supported the armed resistance and strongly opposed the presence of foreign troops in Iraq and despite the legal and moral obligation to rebuild Iraq, the US had done very little in that regard. Of the $US 230 billion spent to 2006 (original estimate of war costs: $ 1,3 billion), only $18.4 billion were earmarked for ‘reconstruction’ and up to 80% of that was siphoned off for private security services. Oil and electricity production were below pre-war levels, health and water systems in disarray and everyday life a bleak struggle with petrol queues and power blackouts. A secret 2005 British Ministry of Defence survey of Iraq public opinion published in the London Sunday Telegraph (23/10/2005) found that 65% of polled Iraqis supported attacks by Iraqi armed resistance on US-led occupation forces, 72% said that the US-led occupation had made their lives less secure, and 82% ‘strongly opposed’ the presence of US and other foreign troops in their country.

As in Afghanistan, the introduction of formal ‘democracy’ and the presence of US-led forces in Iraq have also done little to advance women’s rights there. According to a 2005 Amnesty International report, several female activists were threatened, kidnapped or killed by male-chauvinist Islamicists for advocating women’s rights, others forced to operate in a climate of fear and intimidation; in addition, ‘reports have emerged of beatings, threats of rape, humiliating and degrading treatment and long periods of solitary confinement’ of Iraqi women by US forces.

Torture and other severe abuses of human rights also again became routine in post-invasion ‘democratic’ Iraq. Referring to Shiite Interior Ministry-run secret torture centres, former first post-Saddam prime minister Iyad Allawi (himself a secular Shiite) publicly stated in November 2005 that the abuse of human rights in occupied Iraq was as bad as it was under Saddam Hussein, if not worse. This Iraqi puppet government abuse was also modelled on US practices. According to the US Human Rights Network,

“The US military has systematically committed acts of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds have been detained indefinitely, without charge or trial, and often in secret. Criminal trials have been conducted in military tribunals that do not provide adequate transparency or due process protections.”

For example, at Abu Ghraib military prison near Baghdad arbitrarily detained civilian ‘security detainees’ (arrested during demonstrations, at checkpoints and in house raids ) were denied court access, killed and tortured or abused by physical, sexual and psychological means. The torture was photographed by guards, some of whom had worked in the US domestic prison system, and emailed. Seven male and female soldiers were charged or pleaded guilty to torture charges, but no officer or government official had to face criminal proceedings. According to renowned US journalist Seymour Hersh, within days of the first reports about Abu Ghraib abuses, ‘the judicial system was programmed to begin prosecuting the enlisted men and women in the photos and to go no further up the chain of command.’

In 2004 the Pentagon itself acknowledged that there had been at least 94 confirmed cases of death in custody, sexual and physical assault and other mistreatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan by US army guards. British soldiers were also charged with forcing Iraqis into humiliating sexual poses and photographing them. The International Red Cross told the US government that its treatment of illegally held detainees at its base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was ‘tantamount to torture’. Many of the techniques involving humiliation were part of a standard, so-called ‘futility’ or ‘ego down’ approach, and 16 of such harsh techniques were approved for use at Guantanamo by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld in December 2002.

After retirement (as not infrequently with members of the military and ruling elites), the US officer who opened and ran Guantanamo, Marine Major-General Michael Lehnert, agreed with the critics, saying that the camp should be shut down and noting that ‘in retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong’, and that it had ‘helped our enemies.’ As for the prisoners illegally held there for their ‘intelligence value’, he ‘quickly became convinced that most of them never should have been sent there because they had little intelligence value and there was insufficient evidence linking them to war crimes.’

In his declared so-called ‘war on terror’, torture and abuse had been sanctioned by President Bush in 2001 and 2002. Immediately after September 11 President Bush extended the Clinton-era practice, begun in 1995, of so-called ‘renditions’ by enabling the CIA ‒ now without even any internal bureaucratic oversight or review whatsoever ‒ to covertly transport illegally abducted and detained detainees in ‘ghost flights’ to certain countries for interrogation (Egypt, Jordan , Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia). These countries are known ‒ and have often been previously officially condemned by the US State Department ‒ to practise torture during interrogations. Thus, in order to circumvent the bans on torture in its own law and in international law, the US government thus secretly ‘outsourced’ its interrogations in a form of ‘torture by proxy’. According to a 2005 CBS TV report, ‘The suspects were often picked up by local security services or police at the behest of the CIA, and were then drugged, stripped and dressed in prison clothes by masked CIA operatives before being put on the jets.’ After his release from Guantanamo Bay , Australian detainee Mamdouh Habib was taken from Pakistan to Egypt, where he alleged that he was visited by Australian officials and repeatedly tortured by means of electric shocks and water immersion and threatened with sexual assault through trained dogs.

According to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker and State Department officials, President Bush decided to explicitly suspend the Geneva Conventions in January 2002. Since September 11, 2001 and under the pretext of a so-called ‘war on terrorism’, the US government in fact built up a largely invisible ‘global gulag system’ of secret prisons (‘black sites’) and an ‘outsourced’ torture network without prison rolls, visitor rosters, staff lists or complaint procedures. There has been no possibility of meaningful judicial process or review. These ‘ghost detainees’ were held outside any legal framework. By evading public and judicial scrutiny, by hiding the identity of perpetrators and fate of victims, the US administration can thus avoid accountability for its serious human rights violations.

As in any totalitarian state or authoritarian dictatorship, the US administration did this in order to ‘disappear’, hold without charge or trial and torture anyone it considered ‘suspect’. It attempted to set up a punitive parallel system beyond the reach of the American and European judicial process, i.e. beyond the rule of law or democratic process. Key features of liberal democracy were thus in fact abolished and a form of authoritarian police state introduced. According to US and UK military officials, the floating population of ‘ghost detainees’ in this global US gulag in 2005 exceeded 10,000.

In December 2005 the UN human rights chief Louise Arbour warned that the global ban on torture was becoming a casualty of the US-led so-called ‘war on terror’ and demanded that the US and other countries state clearly what practices they accepted in the interrogation of suspects, whether they operated secret prisons at home or abroad and the prosecution of those responsible for torture and ill treatment.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw asserted that the British government did not ‘knowingly’ use information gained under torture. By 2012, however, the British Ministry of Defence had already paid out $21.7 million in compensation to hundreds of Iraqis who had been illegally detained and tortured by British forces during their five-year occupation of south-eastern Iraq; lawyers representing former detainees ‘said the abuse was systemic, with military interrogators and guards responsible for the mistreatment acting in accordance with both their training in Britain and orders issued in Iraq.’ At the end of 2012 up to 1000 British soldiers were expected to be investigated in the UK for crimes allegedly committed during the Iraq war.

At the same time as Foreign Secretary Straw was alleging ignorance of torture, sacked former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray revealed that the British government was aware it was receiving information obtained by Uzbek authorities through torture and that British Foreign Office legal opinion argued that use of such information was not a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. A British Foreign Office briefing note for the PM’s office (December 2005) also revealed that, in contrast to official denials by Blair and others, the British government had been aware of the secret US interrogation centres and was trying to stifle attempts by British MPs to find out what it knew about CIA ‘torture flights’. According to a previously unpublished document obtained in 2005 by the Statewatch Civil Liberties Group, the European Union as a whole secretly allowed the US to use airports on European soil to transport ‘criminals’ in 2003.

In December 2005 it was also revealed that for all its electorally popular, publicly ‘anti-American’ stance during the Iraq invasion, the Social-Democrat-Green government in Germany had also had detailed knowledge of, been quietly complicit with, and occasionally even rewarded for, its silence in regard to the US practice of CIA ‘renditions’ and so-called ‘black sites’ across Europe. In some cases, German intelligence officers had even actively cooperated and ‘even tried to profit from the controversial methods by questioning prisoners who were being held without any legal foundation.’ Similarly, according to the official Council of Europe report, the British government not only allowed the use of British airspace and airports for US ‘renditions’ but also ‘provided information that was used during the torture of one suspect’.

By turning a blind eye or actively colluding in the unlawful and abusive US practice of ‘renditions’, many other democratic European states and airline companies must – in the view of Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Kahn ‒ ‘also bear responsibility for creating a law-free zone in which human rights can be violated with impunity.’ This opinion was confirmed in 2007 with the conclusion of the 19-month Council of Europe investigation into the complicity of European governments in CIA ‘renditions’ which declared: ‘We have sufficient grounds to declare that the highest state authorities [in Europe] were aware of the illegal activities on their territories’, but continued to cover them up.

For fear of possible lawsuits and being made scapegoats for illegal Bush-administration decisions, some CIA officers in 2006 even refused to take part in internal discussions about secret prisons, controversial interrogation methods breaching the Geneva Conventions and ‘extraordinary renditions’.

Not only common sense but the order-givers and textbooks of the intelligence hierarchy – like CIA director Porter Goss or the US Army’s own interrogation field manual – have often admitted that torture is in fact a very unreliable interrogation technique because of the victim’s willingness to say anything the torturer wishes to hear. It may, however, serve quite other purposes than those officially maintained.

Domestically, the function of torture is also one of instilling a general sense of fear in the population, increasing social disengagement and weakening dissent, and thus increasing state social control. Increased unregulated state surveillance, the arbitrary arrest on mere suspicion that has become possible through so-called ‘anti-terror’ legislation (like the US Patriot Act and its British and Australian equivalents), torture, sedition laws and the elimination of habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence and the right to fair trial – all these introduced features of the authoritarian state also terrorize the broader community into acquiescence.

Thus, under the guise or pretext of the so-called ‘war on terror’ declared by the Bush administration, several Western democracies have been shifted towards less open, less democratic, less law-based and more intolerant, more authoritarian and more coercive systems of governance. Liberal democracy is at grave risk of disappearing into some form of ‘friendly (i.e. still constitutional and formally ‘democratic’) fascism’ . Combined with savagely neo-liberal economic policies strengthening the power of Capital over workers (tax cuts for the wealthy, radical reductions of the welfare state safety net, generally minimizing wages and penalty rates, intensifying working conditions, weakening of unions and workers’ rights) and increasing nationalism and xenophobia among frightened populations, outright ‘friendly fascist’ and authoritarian police states thus seem ominously nascent at least in the USA, some European countries and Australia.

The usual moral confusions and double standards also pertain. As the New York Times noted, the US State Department’s 2005 World Human Rights report chastised the Iraqi government that was under its own control and its security forces

“for the same kinds of arbitrary detentions, abusive treatment and torture that have been widespread in American military and intelligence prison camps. Indeed, some of the practices the report labeled as torture when employed by foreign governments were approved at one point for American detention centers by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.”

According to Francis Boyle, Professor of Law at the University of Illinois, the accountability for all these war crimes under the terms of the US Army’s own Field Manual 27-10 stretches from the immediate perpetrators up to the army high command, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush himself:

“So ultimately what we have here are people at the highest levels of the chain of command guilty of ordering or not preventing torture, which is both an international crime against the Geneva Conventions and the Torture Convention and a domestic crime as well. What we have here then is a conspiracy among the aforementioned individuals to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

However, at this point in time, a Nuremberg-style war crimes tribunal for Messrs Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Blair or Howard is as little in the offing as it was for the many war criminals, human rights abusers and international law breakers of previous US and Western democratic governments.

US and British forces in post-occupation Iraq of course faced the usual guerrilla insurgency seeking to throw them out. Violence quickly became the main cause of death in Iraq. Despite the predictable western media focus on insurgent bomb attacks and hostage taking, the main killers at least initially in 2004 were not the insurgents but US soldiers: the Iraqi ministry of health’s statistics showed that in the last six months of that year they killed almost twice as many people as the insurgents did. A 2005 report by the independent Iraq Body Count and the Oxford Research Group, applying very strict verification criteria, concluded that of the at least 24,865 Iraqi civilians verifiably killed in the two years after the invasion, four times as many (around nine and a half thousand, or 37%) died at the hands of US-led forces than were killed by suicide bombers or insurgents (2,353). Non-political criminal violence accounted for the second largest (36%) cause of death, the criminal murder rate having soared 20-fold since the invasion.

The massive breakdown of law and order as well as the health system in Iraq is of course also an effect of the invasion (coming on top of the destruction wrought by the first Gulf War and the sanctions) and the inherent ineffectiveness of the initial puppet regime and subsequent ‘democratic’ governments. Depleted uranium munitions were also again used in the 2003 invasion: in July 2007 the Iraqi Environment Minister linked a sharp increase in cancers to the 350 officially DU-contaminated sites across Iraq and urgently requested international assistance.

According to research by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore published at the end of 2004 in The Lancet medical journal, the estimated total (direct and indirect) death toll of the second Iraq war/invasion was at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Most were killed by air strikes. About half were women and children. In the same period 848 US military were killed in combat or attacks. In 2006 the same institute release a report based on their cluster survey research of Iraqi deaths in occupied Iraq. This report, which did not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, came to the conclusion that the illegal war of aggression and imperial occupation had caused more than 600,000 Iraqi deaths.

In Professor (of Law) Michael Mandel’s view, that is 600,000 murders: ‘Since the war was unlawful, the many thousands of deaths predictably resulting from it are also crimes, murder in fact, for which Bush and his officials and commanders are guilty in flagrante.’

In his Noble Prize speech of 2005, British playwright Harold Pinter emphatically concurred:

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. […] We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.’ […]

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines.

In 2012, seven years after Pinter’s speech, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa also concurred: in his view, Bush and Blair should be taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for their role in the Iraq war, accusing them of lying about weapons of mass destruction and leaving the world more destabilised and divided ‘than [after] any other conflict in history.’

Iraqi Deaths as a result of US/British/Australian 2003 Invasion of Iraq (as of 2006): c. 609,500

Total Iraqi Deaths through US/GB Interventions 1990-2006: c. 1,820,500

Iraq 2: Sanctions and Bombing 1990-2003

•July 22, 2015 • 11 Comments


[Second essay of recent history of western intervention and war crimes in Iraq as background to the current chaos of IS etc.]

Sanctions and Bombing 1990-2003

Where are our human rights here in Iraq? We have no electricity, no clean water, no trains, no safe cars, an environment which is being destroyed, and you are bombing us every day. I tell you, we would rather have a real war than this slow death. This is genocide.
– Iraqi civilian Nasra al-Sa’adoun 1999 (cited in Nikki van der Gaag, ‘Iraq- The pride and the pain’)

I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.
– from the 1998 statement of resignation of Denis Halliday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq

…we think the price is worth it.
– Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to UN under President Clinton, in 1996 on the relationship between the 500,000 children killed by UN sanctions and the political benefits to the US ruling elites (aka the ‘national interest’)

Under pressure from the US, Great Britain and France, the UN Security Council in 1990 imposed ‘the most savage economic sanctions ever imposed by the United Nations’ on Iraq to weaken Saddam Hussein and force him to pull out of Kuwait. The Security Council ‘ordered that food and medical supplies to Iraq be intercepted – in complete contravention of international law, including the Geneva Convention and the UN Charter itself.’ These sanctions remained after the 1991 Gulf War and under the Clinton-Gore administration. Ostensibly, the sanctions remained in place because the Saddam regime was not complying with UN resolutions regarding its disarmament. They were obviously also meant to control and weaken the regime. In fact, they actually consolidated Saddam’s dictatorial position within Iraq.

They were the only sanctions of the 20th century imposed as a complete embargo on almost ALL trade rather than only on particular goods or areas. Already bombed back into the pre-industrial age, the heavily import-dependent Iraqi people were now also denied the basic requirements of survival.

The sanctions regime stopped the import of spare parts for electricity, water and telephone infrastructure, medicines, pain killers, antiseptics, water purification additives. Polio, cholera, typhoid returned with a vengeance. Malnutrition and hunger spread. Cancer rates soared due to the DU weapons used, and the import of cancer drugs was prohibited under the ‘dual use’ (potential weapon use) rule. Under the ‘oil for food’ program agreed to in 1995, UN mine-detecting dogs in northern Iraq were allocated more food per head than Iraqi people, according to Benon Sevon, the Director of the Iraq Programme.

As a direct result, according to a 1999 UNICEF study, there was a rise in the mortality rate for children under five from 48 per 1,000 in 1990 to 122 per 1,000 in 1997, and a rise in the child malnourishment rate of 73% since 1991, with one in four children malnourished. The maternal mortality rate more than doubled from 50 per 100,000 live births in 1989 to 117 in 1997. At that time, UNICEF estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 children were dying each month as a direct result of sanctions, a fact that led the then UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Denis Halliday, to resign from his post in late 1998.

Halliday resigned with the comment: ‘I am resigning because the policy of economic sanctions is […] destroying an entire society. Five thousand children are dying every month […] I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.’ He later noted how the UN sanctions both violated the UN Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights and was actually a war, ‘through the United Nations’, targeting civilians, targeting children and thus ‘a monstrous situation, for the United Nations, for the Western world, for all of us who are part of some democratic system, who are in fact responsible for the policies of our governments and the implementation of sanctions on Iraq.’

His successor, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned with similar comments in 2000, as did Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, saying she could no longer tolerate what was being done to the Iraqi people. Such collective action was unprecedented.

The total number of Iraqi victims of the sanctions regime up to 2003 has been estimated as being over 1 million people, with almost half of these being children under five.

As usual, double standards prevailed and Western corporate media tended to pass over these horrific facts with benign indifference. Both Labor and conservative Australian governments (and, of course, the local corporate media in their usual supportive role) proudly participated in this state terrorism: they helped implement the near-genocidal sanctions regime with the ongoing deployment of naval vessels.

The then US Ambassador to the UN and later Secretary of State under President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, quite accurately considered sanctions ‘amongst the most powerful and lethal weapons in our armory’. In an interview with Lesley Stahl on CBS’s 60 Minutes on 12 May 1996, she, in response to Stahl’s question about whether the 500,000 Iraqi child victims of sanctions (a figure that, he pointed out, surpassed Hiroshima’s tally) were worth ‘the price’, notoriously answered as follows: ‘I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.’ Seldom has the equivalence of imperial realpolitik and mass murder been stated with such clarity. CBS has since refused to allow the videotape of the interview with Albright to be shown again.

In Clinton’s ‘Operation Desert Fox’, from late 1998 onwards, the US and Britain flew almost daily illegal bombing sorties over so-called ‘no-fly zones’ in Iraq without any UN backing. The death toll after only one month was over 10,000.

Total Iraqi Civilian Deaths As A Result of US/UN Sanctions: over 1 million (over 500,000 children under five)

Iraq 1: The First Gulf War 1991

•July 21, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Banksy Fallen-Soldier1

[The first of three essays on recent Iraq history. Can one really understand, or begin to understand, some of the complexities of the massive suffering and dire situations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan without understanding some of the history behind the present chaos, in particular the history of the many western imperial interventions in the region? As ye sow, so shall ye reap… The original of the essay is copiously footnoted with sources, but as usual WordPress won’t let me cut and paste them for some reason. Let’s start with the first Gulf War 1991. The image is Banksy’s “Fallen Soldier’.]

The Gulf War 1991

The greatest moral crusade since World War II.
– US President George Bush Sr. on the first Gulf War

…a sample group of children were asked, ‘What sticks in your mind about the television coverage of the war?’ Most referred to the hi-tech weapons and equipment; some mentioned specifically the Pentagon war ‘videogames’. None mentioned people.
– J. Pilger, Hidden Agendas, p. 58.

By military conquest, economic control or client states, the British, French and US empires have dominated the oil-rich Middle East since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. In the words of ex-US Secretary of State Ramsey Clark:

Throughout the seventy-five year period from Britain’s invasion of Iraq early in World War I to the destruction of Iraq in 1991 by US air power, the United States and the United Kingdom demonstrated no concern for democratic values, human rights, social justice, or political and cultural integrity in the region, nor for stopping military aggression there.

Despite having helped set up the tyrannous Ba’athist regime itself in 1968 and very actively (together with the USSR, Britain, Brazil, France and Germany) traded with, armed and supported the dictatorial, human rights-abusing Saddam Hussein regime against Iran throughout the eighties and right up to the war , the US gained (after some bribery and arm-twisting) UN Security Council approval, and a 33 nation coalition, for an attack on Iraq after the latter occupied Kuwait in 1990.

For 42 days from January 1991 the US flew 110,000 air sorties against Iraq, dropping 88,000 tons of bombs, nearly seven times the equivalent of the Hiroshima atomic bomb; most targets were civilian facilities and this resulted in a systematic destruction of Iraq’s industrial infrastructure, leaving it in a pre-industrial condition. More ordnance was dropped on Iraq during the six weeks of ‘Desert Storm’ than was dropped in the whole of World War Two. Residential and commercial areas, schools, hospitals, mosques, highway traffic were also targeted and destroyed; between 113,000 and 125,000 men, women and children are estimated to have been killed. The UN Under Secretary-General Martti Ahtisaari reported that the effects of the bombing of infrastructure were ‘near apocalyptic’: twenty eight hospitals had been hit, along with major water and sewage facilities, all eight of Iraq’s hydro-power dams and grain storage silos and irrigation systems. More than 1.8 million Iraqis were forced from their homes. Also, at least 100,000 Iraqi (mostly conscripted) soldiers were killed at a cost of 148 US combat casualties.

General Colin Powell’s response to a press inquiry about the possible number of Iraqi dead was: ‘It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in.’ Among the known illegal weapons employed by the US were fuel air explosives, napalm, cluster and fragmentation bombs. The Australian Labor government under Prime Minister Hawke sent a frigate.

Part of the Pentagon and corporate media spin given to the aerial bombardment was that this was a ‘clean war’ because of the new ‘surgical strike’ precision of high-tech ‘smart bombs’. After the war the Pentagon admitted that only 7% of US explosives dropped were of such nature; 70% of the 88,000 tons dropped missed their targets completely. ‘Precision’ Tomahawk cruise missiles also delivered ‘grenade sub-munitions’ that sprayed tens of thousands of small pieces of shrapnel aimed at shredding people.

Thousands of Iraqi (mostly conscripted) soldiers fleeing home from Kuwait on the Basra road after Iraq had agreed to comply with UN Resolution 660 (a cease fire and an unconditional withdrawal) were massacred from the air in a so-called ‘duck shoot’. As Colin Hughes, a correspondent for the UK Independent (the only British newspaper to give consistent and substantial coverage to this slaughter) reported:

The glee with which American pilots returning to their carriers spoke of the ‘duck shoot’ presented by columns of Iraqis retreating from Kuwait City (has) troubled many humanitarians who otherwise supported the Allied objectives. Naturally it is sickening to witness a routed army being shot in the back.

The UK Telegraph reported US pilots likening their attack on the convoy to ‘shooting fish in a barrel’. The massacre of withdrawing soldiers removing themselves from combat under direct orders from Baghdad is a war crime violating The Geneva Conventions of 1949 Common Article III and the 1907 Hague Convention.

Six months after the war New York Newsday disclosed that in the last two days before the ceasefire US infantry had ‘used snow ploughs mounted on tanks and combat earth movers to bury thousands of Iraqi soldiers – some still alive – in more than 70 miles of trenches’; a brigade commander, Colonel Moreno, was quoted as saying: ‘For all I know, we could have killed thousands’.

In total, around 100,000 Iraqi soldiers lost their lives. The American death toll was 115. On the rather shaky assumption that such incredible figures can still somehow express a notion of ‘war’ (rather than, say, a bloodbath), then this roughly 1 to 1,000 ratio is probably unique in the history of warfare.

After Saddam Hussein’s withdrawal from Kuwait and the cessation of bombing President Bush exhorted Iraqis to rise up against him. When the Kurds in the north and Shias in the south did so, they were slaughtered:

the Coalition sat on its hands. The uprisings were duly cut to pieces by the Republican Guards who had mysteriously surfaced intact from Desert Storm and on whom Saddam relied for his power. The most terrible suffering followed.

In 1993 it was revealed that depleted uranium (DU) – like the other above mentioned weapons a UN-designated ‘weapon of mass destruction’ – had also been used for the first time in the Gulf War, with perhaps as much as 900 tonnes remaining on the ground in Iraq. According to one estimate, this may equate to around 300 tonnes of uranium.

(DU is a waste product from the uranium enrichment process in which uranium is separated into around 15% enriched uranium for use as reactor fuel and 85% depleted uranium as waste; in 1997 the US Department of Energy had about 704,000 t waste DU in storage. Australia, producing around 18% of global uranium, and selling 1,272 t to the US in 1999, is thus of course also implicated in DU manufacture. Upon explosion of DU weapons a fine dust of radioactive uranium oxide is formed that is small enough to be deeply inhaled. After claims of cancer and groundwater contamination, Irish scientists also found plutonium in DU rounds fired by NATO in Kosovo in 1999 , so one can assume plutonium is also now present in Iraq.)

US and British governments informed neither Iraqi civilians nor coalition soldiers of the dangers they faced from DU. Nine years after the war, the general cancer rate in Iraq had risen up to tenfold; in Basra radiation levels in fauna and flora had reached 84 times the World Health Organization’s recommended safe limit and many babies had been born with no eyes, brains, limbs, genitalia, internal organs on the outside, grotesque deformations etc. Between 1990 and 1997 in Basra uterine cancers increased by 160%, thyroid cancer by 143 %, breast cancer by 102 % and leukaemia by 82%.

One of the children affected in Basra was Jassim, who died in 1998 at the age of 13 of leukaemia. Jassim was also a poet.

Poetic Interlude 2

Jassim: Identity Card

The name is love,
The class is mindless,
The school is suffering,
The governorate is sadness,
The city is sighing,
The street is misery,
The home number is one thousand sighs.

In 1999 a UN subcommittee called for the global banning of DU use; the initiative was blocked by the US. In 2003 the European Parliament called for a moratorium on the use of DU.

Ten years after the war, over 200,000 of the 600,000 US Gulf War veterans had sought help or disability benefits from Veterans’ Administration hospitals and in Britain 8,000 of the 29,000 Gulf War veterans were ill and over 400 had died; as with Agent Orange in Vietnam, veterans’ babies have been showing high rates of congenital abnormalities (missing ears, eyes or fingers, severe blood diseases or respiratory problems). The US army of course, as usual, neglected to tell its personnel anything about the possible health hazards although a US army report six months before the Gulf War had detailed the risks of DU use and had called for the usual ‘public relations efforts’ to stave off the ‘potential for adverse international reaction.’

In 2004 Dr Doug Rokke, director of the US Army DU project after the first Gulf War and himself now seriously ill, estimated that more than 10,000 US troops had died since 1991 as a result of the war, many from contamination illness, and ‘tens of thousands’ of Iraqis had been contaminated. Again, as with Vietnam veterans and their experience of thirty years of governmental denial of delayed Agent Orange effects, for eight years the British Ministry of Defence refused to countenance DU as a contributory cause of veterans’ ‘Gulf War Syndrome’. As of 2007, the corporate media, in contrast to their wartime drum banging about ‘our heroic troops’, of course continue to remain conspicuously silent on the issue.

The Saddam Hussein regime had in fact acquired all its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction during the 1980s from the US, Britain, France and Germany. The regime enjoyed steady support from the US and the west during its war with Iran during the 1980s, receiving billions in loans, weapons, intelligence information on Iranian deployments. In 1994 a US Senate Committee reported that until 1989 US companies supplied – with the approval of the Pentagon and other government agencies – Iraq with biological materials capable of weapons grade use (including anthrax and botulism), precursors for chemical warfare agents, plans for chemical and biological warfare production facilities, even chemical warhead filling equipment. The US supplied Hussein with hundreds of tons of unrefined sarin (used in chemical warfare) even after the Iraqi gas attack on Kurdish civilians in Halabja in March 1988 which left around 8,000 dead.

During the actual terror bombing campaign in 1991 any vestiges of the (theoretical) role of the US media as democratic correctives to executive abuse totally collapsed and the media became ‒ as in any authoritarian system ‒ bellicose, de facto sub-organisations of the State (or Pentagon). As described by ex-Secretary of State Ramsey Clark:

the press received virtually all its information from or by permission of the Pentagon. Efforts were made to prevent any adverse information or opposition views from being heard. CNN’s limited presence in Baghdad was described as Iraqi propaganda. Independent observers, eyewitnesses’ photos, and video tapes with information about the effects of the US bombing were excluded from the media. Television network ownership, advertisers, newspaper ownership, elite columnists and commentators intimidated and instructed reporters and selected interviewees. They formed a near-single voice of praise for US militarism, often exceeding the Pentagon in bellicosity.

For the first time to this extent, the media presented the war as a victim-free hi-tech spectacle for home consumption. In the new merging of weaponry and camera in which bombers or ‘smart weapons’ like cruise missiles can actually film their targets as they are destroyed, ‘the technology of killing and the technology of the photo opportunity (…) fuse into one moment.’ In David Holmes’ summary, ‘War is reduced to electronic impulses flickering on a video screen, encoded in a technologically extended form of engagement at once removed and curiously comforting.’ As in violent video games on which the media war spectacle seemed based, there were no real bodies, no blood, no suffering, no human trauma ever allowed onto the screens. Iraqi civilians simply did not exist. Research revealed that of the 8,000 images used in British TV coverage of the war, for example, only 1% dealt with human suffering. In the US, a new ‘military-industrial-entertainment complex’ had emerged, fusing the arms industry, the Pentagon, Hollywood, the electronic games industry, the corporate media and patriotic consumers.

As in any authoritarian society, corporate newspaper reporting was, as usual, characterized by the blatant manufacture of public consent to the war-mongering. After the Kuwait invasion, ally Saddam Hussein suddenly became ‘another Hitler’ and his previous ally role became absolute taboo: ‘Following August 2, 1990, when he became an enemy, it would be difficult to find in the mainstream media any reference to the fact that this demon ‘had been in alliance with the US as short a time ago as August 1, 1990.

Common propaganda techniques included: a fixation on battle statistics, strategies and economic costs (to the West), the omission of images of and figures on Iraqi and civilian deaths and suffering, the personalization, outright falsification or demonisation of complex realities (Saddam-Hitler, The ‘Butcher of Baghdad’, the PR disinformation item of Iraqi soldiers killing Kuwaiti babies in incubators etc), the usual restriction of political debate to narrowly limited, unhistorical and de-contextualized establishment parameters. One key and intended result of the corporate media propaganda techniques constructing the powerful high-tech spectacle of a sanitized war was that ‘the sheer scale of this killing never entered public consciousness in the West’.

American veteran situationist Ken Knabb describes the predominant spectator sport reaction in the US:

The spectators, under the impression that they were expressing their own considered views, parroted the catch phrases and debated the pseudo-issues that the media had instilled in them day after day, and as in any other spectator sport loyally ‘supported’ the home team in the desert by rooting for it.

The independent International War Crimes Tribunal, comprising many respected members from many countries, found the US government guilty of war crimes and conduct that violated the UN Charter, the Hague and Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Charter, the US Constitution and the laws of armed conflict.

Total Iraqi Civilian Deaths by Allied Terror Bombing 1991: 113,000 to 125,000
Total Iraqi Conscripted Soldier Deaths 1991: more than 100,000

Dollars and Tanks

•July 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

To protect our way of living

[Poem I wrote thirty years ago in the days of Reagan and Gorbachev. Bit of a sound/performance poem too. ]

Dollars and Tanks

severed by machines
sundered and shuttered
from cabbage and lightning
as noise feeds on us
worked and preyed on
wrought and played on
in unreal caverns

dollars and tanks

machines that make money
and whirl us around
spew us up flotsamed
and jetsamed
onto lonely ground
dry and thunderous
grit in our teeth, grey spume
receding over acidified heath

dollars and tanks
dollars and tanks

oil spirits flitting
through computers and steel
spirals and shanks
burning souls under keel
churning accounts
in phantom banks
from Rio to Reykjavik

dollars and tanks
dollars and tanks

from Rio to Reykjavik
dollars and tanks

Rhapsody on the Upholding One

•June 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment


[Poem I wrote 15 years ago while exploring personal baggage and the early infancy period. The epigram by Spanish poet Jimenez translates as “I am not I”. The photo is of a friend’s baby, Oscar.]

Rhapsody on the Upholding One

Yo no soy yo – Juan Ramon Jimenez

This is the one I am not.
This one behind, beside me.
This one looking on.
This one radiant
to find the soft dark look
in your mother’s eye.

This core, this rock,
this root that grounds
the stem of self
which well-embedded
futures out
into a thousand
shimmering leaves
breathing sun & storm.

This first idea of Good.

The way you held me
there in Wigram Road,
took me to bed for a week,
stroked soul back to body
far fled in terror
from mother lost in white
isolation black with light,
fleshless the tile, metal
cold as psychosis,
overworked nurses
who couldn’t get near me
for the screams.

This quiet upholding
this round cradling,
like lying on your back
perhaps on a lake,
your eye the sky
balanced softly
on breathing water.

Subtle, humble, unseen
& flowing where it must
to minister life, wash
away despair, attending,
unrecognised, always
there. The living grid
& matrix of us all.

Ten Theses on Authoritarian and Anti-authoritarian Socialism

•June 26, 2015 • 2 Comments

Kronstadt_attack by Red Army

[An essay asking whether the term ‘socialism’ is still useful in terms of the deep social change needed today. The photo is of the attack on revolutionary anti-Bolshevik Kronstadt by the Red Army and Bolshevik Party volunteers in 1921, the last chapter of the Bolshevik counter-revolution and civil war that cost around 10 million lives.]

Ten Theses on Authoritarian and Anti-authoritarian Socialism

‘Socialism will be free, or it will not be at all’ (Rudolf Rocker)

1. Socialism, as an ideal, has had many deaths, right from its inception. Its probable last death occurred with the collapse of the so-called ‘real existing socialism’ of the Soviet empire in 1991. The latter totalitarian system is what most people came to identify with the word ‘socialism.’ Despite the last remaining versions in North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba, it has now to all intents and purposes disappeared from contemporary history. Does this matter?

2. This disappearance is ambivalent. On the one hand, good riddance indeed! Authoritarian (‘real’) socialism and its manifold oppressions certainly deserved to die and anti-authoritarian socialists should have been dancing on the streets at the collapse of the totalitarian Soviet empire. On the other hand, the disappearance of ANY ‘grand narrative’, ANY systemic critique, ANY alternative social ideals to capitalism and its puppets in parliamentary democracy also signifies an even stronger capitalist hegemony, fragmentation, alienation, commodification, meaninglessness.

3. Previous deaths of socialism can be briefly listed: the split within the First International between authoritarian Marxists and anti-authoritarian anarchists in 1872, the collapse of working class solidarity and the socialist Second International in August 1914 and the ensuing fratricidal slaughter of World War One, the Bolshevik coup d’état, Red Terror and counter-revolution, the working class defeats and self-defeats in Germany, Hungary, Italy 1917-1921, the German working class support for or non-resistance to Hitler’s take-over in 1933, the Stalinist terror-‘socialism’ with its totalitarian Gulag slave system and its imperial foreign policies, the Communist undermining, anarchist failures and fascist defeat of the Spanish Revolution in 1937-39, the inability to radically transform the capitalist and imperialist system after World War Two, the triumph of affluent consumerism and its economic neo-colonialism over any remnant socialist ‘ideology’ in the Keynesian warfare-welfare state and then in neoliberal globalization.

4. As anarchists pointed out from the beginning, from Babeuf, Buonarroti and Blanqui to Lassalle, Marx, Kautsky, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, mainstream socialism (Jacobin, Marxist, Social Democratic, Communist) has for the most part been authoritarian and autocratic from its inception. Even its parliamentary social democratic forms are autocratic parties in which the rank and file are, and always have been, completely subservient to the hierarchical party machines filled with upwardly mobile opportunists and careerists. In this authoritarianism and heteronomy socialism has partaken of the dialectic of its origins, the dialectic of the French Revolution and Enlightenment, of liberal bourgeois thought. Socialist authoritarianism and autocracy are also expressions of its bourgeois roots. Its opposition has also been capitalism’s continuation and strengthening. ‘What better excuse needs the European bourgeoisie for its reactionary methods than the ferocious dictatorship in Russia?’ (Russian writer Vladimir Korolenko c. 1921)

5. Like capitalism itself, liberal thought is both emancipatory and oppressive. Capitalism’s overthrow of feudalism via expropriation, enclosures and the generalisation of wage labour both frees and enslaves working people. Capitalism’s political form, the bourgeois state, declares human rights, the rule of law, political liberties and the sanctity of private property and capital but at the same time emphatically denies democracy and human rights in the economic sphere and always brutally suppresses those who actively seek them. This basic contradiction between legal-political freedom and economic autocracy and dictatorship ultimately defines the bourgeois state’s Janus face, the latent absolutism and dictatorship (culminating under certain crisis conditions in outright fascism) even within the liberal democratic state. In today’s increasing crises, the slide from the liberal to the post-liberal authoritarian state is well under way.

6. This fatal dialectic inherent in bourgeois thought and reality was played out in the bloody development of all bourgeois revolutions from the English to the French and Russian revolutions. Revolutionary attempts, however weak or partial, at economic democracy, egalitarianism and autonomy from below were always soon crushed by the ‘revolutionary’ bourgeois state from above: Cromwell, Robespierre and Napoleon, Lenin and Trotsky. Every bourgeois revolution is merely political, statist and Jacobin: as militants take over state power and become new ministers, it must have its own counter-revolution, its particular version of the Great Terror and Thermidor.

7. Socialism, as an idea and ideal arises, originally, from the critical insight that bourgeois liberty is also economic, structural, violence for the working people without land or capital, i.e. the ‘liberty’ to be dispossessed of land, to be bossed and exploited or else to starve. In this sense it can be seen as a result of the self-contradiction and failure of revolutionary bourgeois aspirations: it maintains that the liberté promised by the bourgeois revolution cannot be achieved without the concrete, social realisation of the égalité and fraternité also abstractly proclaimed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man (and later echoed in the post-1945 UN Charter).

8. The split between authoritarian and anti-authoritarian socialism can be located along this basic fault line: the former downplays or even explicitly rejects (as ‘bourgeois’) liberté while stressing some form of ‘equality’ and is willing to use the power, and often terror, of the authoritarian state, to enforce some degree of this from above. It always does this while, necessarily, instituting new inequality and oppression in the form of a new and privileged ruling caste or class to wield this state power. In contrast, anti-authoritarian socialism locates the spread of greater egalitarianism within greater liberty and fraternity/sorority, i.e. within the democratic free association and self-management of the people from below. Authoritarian socialism thus continues the ancient and brutal historical trajectory of the state, autocracy, bureaucracy, oligarchy, heteronomy, while libertarian socialism or anarchism is the revolutionary expression of popular egalitarianism, autonomy and self-management, i.e. the power to make the rules ourselves, free of rulers and bosses. It is the radical extension of liberty and democracy to economic decision-making.

9. Given the consequences of this disastrous history of authoritarian ‘socialism’ (aka ‘state capitalism’ or ‘red fascism’ by various libertarian critics) over the last two centuries, the untold millions of its victims in the slave labour gulags, Red/state terrors, terror famines and mass deportations, the notorious mass murderers like Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung or Pol Pot, given all that, terms like ‘socialism’, ‘communism’, ‒ even, given their co-tainting for various reasons, one could argue, ‘anarchism’ and ‘the left’ ‒ may now all be tainted beyond repair or else simply obsolete in terms of motivating and guiding any systemic social change.

10. Yet names and –isms are not the things themselves, not the inner drives, ideas and ideals. The latter ‒ just as much as the drive for herd-like conformity, obedience, voluntary slavery and heteronomy ‒ are probably as old as humanity itself. The inherent anthropological drive for justice, greater equality, solidarity and self-management can only be eradicated when humans themselves, at least as we have so far known them, are totally ‘re-wired’ or eradicated. The terms, the –isms, may change, the ideals will not.


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