April 10, 2004, SaturdayWar Lords to Their Critics: "Just Shut Up"
Thanks to the subservience of many members of the press, the US administration has had an easy time
Just shut up. That's the new foreign policy line of our masters. When Senator Edward Kennedy dubbed Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam", US Secretary of State Colin Powell told him to be "a little more restrained and careful" in his comments. I recall that when the US commenced its bombing of Afghanistan, the White House spokesman claimed that some journalists were "asking questions that the American people wouldn't want asked". Back in the early 1980s, when I reported on the Iranian soldiers on a troop train to Tehran who were coughing Saddam's mustard gas out of their lungs in blood and mucus, a Foreign Office official told my then editor on The Times that my dispatch was "not helpful". In other words, stop criticising our ally, Saddam.
So maybe the policy has been around for quite a while. When the occupation authorities deliberately concealed the attacks against US troops after the start of the Iraq occupation last year, journalists who investigated this violence were told that they weren't covering the big picture, that only small areas of Iraq were restive. And there was a lot of clucking of tongues when a few of us decided to take a close look at US proconsul Paul Bremer's press laws last year. A whole team of "Coalition Provisional Authority" lawyers was set up to see how they could legalise the closure and censorship of Iraqi newspapers that "incited violence". And whenever we raised questions about it, the CPA spokesman - and its current attendant lord, Dan Senor, used the same phrase last week - would announce that "we will not tolerate incitement to violence".
So when Bremer's own closure last week of Muqtada Sadr's silly little weekly - circulation about a quarter that of the Kent Messenger - incited the very violence he supposedly wanted to avoid, what did the American High Commissioner announce? "This will not be tolerated." One of the paper's major sins was to have condemned Paul Bremer for taking Iraq down "Saddam's path", an article which Bremer condemned in painstaking detail in his signed letter - in execrable Arabic - to the editor of the miscreant paper.
Now I'm all against incitement to violence. Just like I'm against incitement to war by the use of fraudulent claims of weapons of mass destruction and secret links to al-Qa'ida. Just like I'm against the use of Saddam's army against Iraqi cities and the use of America's army against Iraqi cities. For let's remember that some of Muqtada Sadr's dangerous militiamen fought Saddam in the 1991 insurgency - the one we supported and then betrayed. Saddam, of course, knew how to deal with resistance. "We will not tolerate...," he told his commanders. And we all know what that meant. No, the Americans are not Saddam's army. But the siege of Fallujah is likely to give that city the heroic status among future generations of Iraqi Sunnis as Basra - surrounded by Saddam's hordes in 1991 - holds among Iraqi Shias today.
But still, we must shut up. I remember how last autumn the cabal of right- wing neo-conservatives who urged the Bush administration into this war suddenly went to ground. What was this so-called neo-conservative lobby behind Bush and Cheney, a New York Times columnist demanded to know, these so-called former Likudist supporters of Israel? When one of them, Richard Perle, turned up on a radio show with me a few weeks ago, he insisted that things were getting better in Iraq, that we were all en route to a cracking little democracy in Mesopotamia.
The moment I suggested that this was a massive case of self-delusion, Perle replied that Fisk had "always been for the maintenance of the Baathist regime". I got the message. Anyone who condemned this bloody mess was a secret Baathist, a lover of the dictator and his torturers. Thus far have the falcons of Washington fallen.
Of course, the "shut-up" principle works both ways. Back on 16 March 2003, when the world was obsessed with the war that would break out in Iraq three days later, a tragedy occurred on another battlefield 500 miles west of Baghdad. On that day, an Israeli soldier and his commander drove a nine-ton Caterpillar bulldozer over a young American peace activist called Rachel Corrie who was unarmed, clearly visible in a fluorescent jacket and trying to protect a Palestinian home that the Israelis intended to destroy. The Caterpillar was part of the regular US aid to Israel. Israel acquitted its own army of responsibility for Rachel's death - which was taped on video by her appalled friends - and the Bush administration remained gutlessly silent.
Rachel's grieving mother Elizabeth has been a picture of dignity. US citizens, she wrote, "should ask themselves how it is that an unarmed US citizen can be killed with impunity by a soldier from an allied nation receiving massive US aid... When three Americans were killed, presumably by Palestinians, in an explosion on October 15th, 2003 ... the FBI came within 24 hours to investigate the deaths. After one year, neither the FBI nor any other US-led team has done anything to investigate the death of an American killed by an Israeli."
Well, the answer is that Bush and his administration know how to shut themselves up when it pays them to do so. That's what Condoleezza Rice initially tried to do when summoned before the 11 September hearings. And, thanks to the subservience of many members of the White House and Pentagon press corps, the administration has an easy time. Why, for example, no press conference questions about Rachel Corrie?
It seems that as long as you say "war on terror", you are safe from all criticism. For not a single American journalist has investigated the links between the Israeli army's "rules of engagement" - so blithely handed over to US forces on Sharon's orders - and the behaviour of the US military in Iraq. The destruction of houses of "suspects", the wholesale detention of thousands of Iraqis without trial, the cordoning off of "hostile" villages with razor wire, the bombardment of civilian areas by Apache helicopter gunships and tanks on the hunt for "terrorists" are all part of the Israeli military lexicon.
In besieging cities - when they were taking casualties or the number of civilians killed was becoming too shameful to sustain - the Israeli army would call a "unilateral suspension of offensive operations". They did this 11 times after they surrounded Beirut in 1982. And yesterday, the American army declared a "unilateral suspension of offensive operations" around Fallujah.
Not a word on this mysterious parallel by America's reporters, no questions about the even more mysterious use of identical language. And in the coming days, we shall - perhaps - find out how many of the estimated 300 dead of Fallujah were Sunni gunmen and how many were women and children. Following Israel's rules is going to lead the Americans into the same disaster those rules have led the Israelis. But I guess we'll shut up about it.
In the end, I suspect, the Iraqis will probably have a greater say in the US presidential elections than American voters. They will decide if President Bush loses or wins. The same may apply to Mr Blair. Funny thing, that a far away people, just 26 million, can change our political history. As for us, I guess we'll be expected to shut up.
IRAQ: THE DESCENT INTO CHAOS: A WAR THAT WAS FOUNDED ON LIES AND ILLUSIONS HAS ONE SIMPLE TRUTH: IRAQIS DO NOT WANT US
A WAR founded on illusions, lies and right-wing ideology was bound to founder in blood and fire. Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. He was in contact with al-Qa'ida, he was involved with the crimes against humanity of 11 September. The people of Iraq would greet us with flowers and music. There would be a democracy.
Even the pulling-down of Saddam's statue was a fraud. An American military vehicle tugged the wretched thing down while a crowd of only a few hundred Iraqis watched. Where were the tens of thousands who should have pulled it down themselves, who should have been celebrating their "liberation"?
On the night of 9 April last year, the BBC even managed to find a "commentator" to heap abuse on me and The Independent for using quotation marks around the word "liberation".
In fact, freedom from Saddam's dictatorship in those early days and weeks meant freedom to loot, freedom to burn, freedom to kidnap, freedom to murder. The initial American and British blunder - to allow the mobs to take over Baghdad and other cities - was followed by the arrival of the far more sinister squads of arsonists who systematically destroyed every archive, every government ministry (save for Oil and Interior which were, of course, secured by US troops), Islamic manuscripts, national archives and irreplaceable antiquities. The very cultural identity of Iraq was being annihilated.
Yet still the Iraqis were supposed to rejoice in their "liberation". The occupying power sneered at reports that women were being kidnapped and violated - in fact, the abductions of men as well as women were at the rate of 20 a day and may now be as high as 100 a day - and steadfastly refused to calculate the numbers of Iraqi civilians killed each day by gunmen, thieves and American troops.
Even this week, as the promises and lies and obfuscations fell apart, the American military spokesman was still only able to give military casualties - this when more than 200 Iraqis are reported to have been killed in the US attack on Fallujah.
Over the months, the isolation of the occupation authorities from the Iraqi people they were supposed to care so much about was only paralleled by the vast distance in false hope and self-deceit between the occupying powers in Baghdad and their masters back in Washington.
Paul Bremer, America's proconsul in Iraq, started off by calling the resistance "party remnants", which is exactly what the Russians used to call their Afghan opponents after they invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Then Mr Bremer called them "diehards". Then he called them "dead-enders". And, as the attacks against US forces increased around Fallujah and other Sunni Muslim cities, we were told this area was the "Sunni triangle", even though it is much larger than that implies and has no triangular shape.
So when President Bush made his notorious trip to the Abraham Lincoln to announce the end of all "major military operations" - beneath a banner claiming "Mission Accomplished" - and when attacks against US troops continued to rise, it was time to rewrite the chapter on post-war Iraq. "Foreign fighters" were now in the battle, according to US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld. The US media went along with this nonsense, even though not a single al-Qa'ida operative has been arrested in Iraq and of the 8,500 "security detainees" in American hands, only 150 appear to be from outside Iraq. Just 2 per cent.
Then as winter approached and Saddam was caught and the anti-American resistance continued, the occupying powers and their favourite journalists began to warn of civil war, something no Iraqi has ever indulged in and which no Iraqi has ever been heard discussing. Iraq was now to be frightened into submission. What would happen if the Americans and British left? Civil war, of course. And we don't want civil war, do we?
The Shia remained quiescent, their leadership divided between the scholarly and pro-Western Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani and the impetuous but intelligent Muqtada Sadr. They opened their mass graves and mourned those thousands who were tortured and executed by Saddam's butchery and then asked why we used to support Saddam, why it took us 20 years to discover the need to stage our humanitarian invasion.
If the occupation authorities had bothered to study the results of a conference on Iraq held by the Centre for Arab Unity Studies in Beirut recently, they might be forced to acknowledge what they cannot admit: that their opponents are Iraqis and that this is an Iraqi insurgency.
An Iraqi academic, Sulieman Jumeili who lives in the city of Fallujah told how he discovered that 80 per cent of all rebels killed were Iraqi Islamist activists. Only 13 per cent of the dead men were primarily nationalists and only 2 per cent had been Baathists.
But we cannot accept these statistics. Because if this is an Iraqi revolt against us, how come they aren't grateful for their liberation? So, after the atrocities in Fallujah just over a week ago when four US mercenaries were killed, mutilated and dragged through the streets, General Ricardo Sanchez, the US commander in Iraq sanctioned what is preposterously called "Operation Vigilant Resolve." And now that Sadr's thousands of Shia militiamen had joined in the battle against the Americans, Sanchez had to change the narrative yet again.
No longer were his enemies Saddam "remnants" or even al-Qa'ida; they were now "a small (sic) group of criminals and thugs". The Iraqi people would not be allowed to fall under their sway, Sanchez said. There was "no place for a renegade militia".
So the Marines smashed their way into Fallujah, killing more than 200 Iraqis, including women and children while using tanks fire and helicopter gunships against gunmen in the Baghdad slums of Sadr city. It took a day or two to understand what new self-delusion had taken over the US military command. They were not facing a country-wide insurgency. They were liberating the Iraqis all over again!
So, of course, this will mean a few more "major military operations". Sadr goes on the wanted list for a murder after an arrest warrant that no one told us about when it was mysteriously issued months ago - supposedly by an Iraqi judge - and General Mark Kimmit, Sanchez's No.2, told us confidently that Sadr's militia will be "destroyed."
And so the bloodbath spreads ever further across Iraq. Kut and Najaf are now outside the control of the occupying powers. And with each new collapse, we are told of new hope. Yesterday, Sanchez was still talking about his "total confidence" in his troops who were "clear in their purpose", how they were making "progress" in Fallujah and how - these are his actual words "a new dawn is approaching".
Which is exactly what US commanders were saying exactly a year ago today - when US troops drove into the Iraqi capital and when Washington boasted of victory against the Beast of Baghdad.
THE PRO-WAR COMMENTATORS: WHAT DO THEY SAY NOW?
Stephen Glover, Daily Mail' columnist
What he said then: "The fall of Baghdad, and the ousting of Saddam Hussein, mark a spectacular victory for American and British forces. This may be a turning point of history. Tony Blair ... deserves particular praise since he took Britain to war in defiance of what was probably a majority of his backbenchers." Daily Mail, 11 April 2003
What he said recently: "Is it not clear that things are going from bad to worse in Iraq? It is as though America and Britain have created their very own Palestine in the Middle East." Daily Mail, 6 April 2004
What he says now: "I was extremely sceptical about the war for the six months before the invasion. Because of the involvement of British troops, I gave it a slightly grudging acceptance. I would like to see an end to British involvement but I can't see how we can honourably get out now. We have got to make the best of a bad job."
Anne McElvoy, London Evening Standard' columnist
What she said then: "The Iraqi people will be heartily relieved to be rid of him. The brave but misguided protesters can only get in the way. If they want to do their humanitarian duty, they could try staying at home." 22 Jan 2003
What she said recently: "Iraq is a country in which a US-led coalition has won a military victory against a dictator and is now attempting to create the rudimentary conditions for democratic elections, whether as a unified country, or a divided one. The worry for all supporters of the war like me is not that America will get bogged down', but that it will not finish what it started." 7 April 2004
What she says now: "Places that are hell on earth one day do not become heaven on earth tomorrow. Being an interventionist means sticking with the hard slog afterwards. I don't deny the situation is very serious. I do object to the view that it was fine to allow Saddam to continue in power because that was somehow easier for us."
Tony Parsons, Daily Mirror' columnist
What he said then: "Being against this war when British soldiers are fighting and dying seems cheap, grubby and inappropriate. The self-congratulatory banners of the peace marchers ... seem pitifully inadequate ... amid the realities of combat." 24 March 2003
What he said recently: "If Tony Blair can make nice with Colonel Gaddafi, then why couldn't he have made nice with Saddam Hussein? He goes to war against a nation that poses us no danger, and then kisses the ring of the proxy murderer of a 25-year-old British policewoman." 29 February 2004
What he says now: "The whole sorry mess looks like a bloody disaster. Leaders like Bush and Blair make me sick: never heard a shot fired in anger in their lives, wouldn't dream of packing off their own children to fight and die, yet trigger-happy gunslingers when it comes to somebody else's son. History will record Blair is a liar."
David Aaronovitch, Guardian' and Observer' columnist
What he said then: "If, in a few weeks, the Security Council agrees to wage war against Saddam, I shall support it. If there is no resolution but the invasion goes ahead, I will not oppose itl. I can't demonstrate against the liberation, however risky, of the Iraqi people." 2 February, 2002
What he said recently: "Now, nearly a year after the beginning of the coalition invasion of Iraq, something is beginning to be created, and it doesn't look like anything that anybody quite anticipated. It is more complex, more difficult, more beset by difficulties and tragedies than anyone who supported the invasion ever allowed for before the war." February 2004
What he says today: "It would be stupid to say things have gone as I had hoped. But getting rid of Saddam was the only chance that the Iraqi people had and the next few weeks will show whether it's a chance they are able to take."
Rebekah Wade, editor of The Sun'
What she said then: "Unlike the display of arrogance and greed put on by President Chirac, Blair has acted throughout with the highest moral principles. A swift and successful war which proves to the world just what a deadly menace Saddam has been for years will cement Blair's place in history." Sun editorial, 13 March 2003
What she said recently: "A year ago today, life began to change for the better in Iraq. Don't just take our word for it. A poll this week shows that 70 per cent of Iraqis say life has improved with Saddam off their backs. The war on Saddam's evil regime was right - and it was worth it, no matter what the Dismal Jimmies may whine ... As billions in American and British aid pours in, Iraq has electricity, running water, goods in the shops, cars instead of donkeys - and hope for the first time." Sun editorial, 19 March 2004
What she says now: "No comment."
Johann Hari, Independent' columnist
What he said then: "Those who still deny all this evidence will know soon enough, once the war is over, what the Iraqi people thought all along. When it emerges ... that they wanted this war, will the anti-war movement recant? Will they apologise for appropriating the voice of the Iraqi people and using it for their own ends?" 26 March 2003
What he said recently: "The only time British newspaper readers hear about Iraq or Afghanistan is when there is a suicide-bomb ... Most experts believe that Iraqi elections will happen this year, and the grotesque, racist idea that Iraqis cannot be democrats because they are primitive tribal people has already been proved wrong." 20 Feb 2004
What he says now: "Before the war I rejected all the WMD arguments. I said that they were rubbish. They were. But I also said that the best evidence we had was that the majority of Iraqis could see no other way to overthrow Saddam and therefore wanted war to proceed."
Airlifting Saddamby Robert Fisk; April 08, 2004
The United States has secretly flown Saddam Hussein out of Iraq and imprisoned him under high security at a vast American air base in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar.
After his capture last December, he was initially taken by helicopter to a US aircraft carrier in Gulf waters for extensive interrogation. After lengthy questioning, he was transferred to Qatar, although the emirate's royal family was not even told of his presence.
Amid the bloody and growing insurgency in Iraq, by both Sunnis and Shias - which continued across the country yesterday - US officials refused to discuss Saddam's place of imprisonment. Many Iraqis still believe he is in Iraq, possibly at the big American base at Balad, 60 miles north of Baghdad on the road to Tikrit, Saddam's home.
But, the increasingly sophisticated guerrilla attacks against the Americans raised fears that insurgents would try to stage a spectacular prison escape for the former Iraqi dictator, so Qatar was chosen as the safest place to hold him within the Middle East.
Under international law and the Geneva Conventions, it is legal for an occupying power to move a prisoner of war outside the frontiers of the country of which he is a citizen, which is why the Americans almost immediately made Saddam an official PoW, an act which initially surprised both US politicians and members of the Iraqi Governing Council.
Under the terms of the Conventions, the International Committee of the Red Cross visited Saddam earlier this year but will not say where the meeting took place. Ironically, the world knows almost less about Saddam since his capture by US special forces in northern Iraq than they did when he was still on the run. Even senior Qatari intelligence officers - who have just arrested two Russian agents for the murder of a Chechen refugee in the capital, Doha - were not informed of Saddam's presence in the emirate, home to the largest US military base in the Middle East.
With thousands of US troops and hundreds of intelligence men, Saddam is as well-guarded as he would be at Guantanamo Bay.
Unhappily for the Americans, however, Saddam's repeated interrogations are yielding little of interest. He does not want to help the FBI-CIA team who are questioning him and gives vague replies to many of the questions he is asked, often stating the Iraqi government's official position on the Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait and UN sanctions.
Several of the FBI interrogators have concluded that Saddam was surrounded by so many sycophants during his dictatorship - who said only what their master wanted to hear - that he had no real idea what was going on in Iraq.
But Saddam himself remains equally ignorant of his immediate future. Although a War Crimes Tribunal was set up in Baghdad within six weeks of his capture - with 15 judges, 45 Iraqi lawyers and a team of American assistants to advise them - Iraqi legal sources say the US government is increasingly reluctant to open trial proceedings against the ex-dictator before the American elections in November.
They say that an almost equal reluctance is being displayed over Tariq Aziz, Saddam's former deputy prime minister, who is being held prisoner by the US at Baghdad airport.
Both men, the sources point out, have an intimate knowledge of Washington's constant support for the Baathist regime in the 1980s and would undoubtedly try to avoid responsibility for their war crimes by making speeches in court that would provide details of the close relationship between the regime and US administrations. Saddam personally met the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, in 1983 - when Iraqi forces were using gas against the Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war - and Mr Rumsfeld, who was on a mission from President Ronald Reagan to improve relations with Iraq, later met Tariq Aziz.
Mr Rumsfeld said last year that he warned Saddam at their 1983 meeting against employing chemical warfare, but American journalists later discovered US documents that proved he had made no such comments. Mr Rumsfeld then said he had given his warning to Tariq Aziz the following year. Either way, the present US administration is in no mood to have a public debate on the subject at a Baghdad court in the run-up to the November elections. US researchers have proved that some of the ingredients of the chemicals used by Saddam's army in the early 1980s were exported by US companies.
Saddam's trial has been made even more problematic by the probable appearance in Iraq of the French lawyer Jacques Verges, who says that Saddam's nephew, Ali Barzan al-Tikriti, has sent him a formal invitation to defend the ex-dictator.
Mr Verges defended the Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie in France and is head of an organisation to support Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague trials. He has already agreed to defend Tariq Aziz in Baghdad.
The only possible war crimes trial to take place in the near future is likely to be of Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed "Chemical" Ali for his gassing of the Kurds at Halabja. Since he is also likely to be charged with war crimes against the Shias of southern Iraq, Mr Ali- Hassan's trial would have the support of two of Iraq's principal communities at a time when the US and any new Iraqi authority will be anxious to prevent the resistance war spreading from the Sunni cities of central and northern Iraq.
Smaller fry are thus likely to have their day in court long before their former master. Saddam's appearance at the "Mother of All War Crimes" trial may still be a long way away.