The ghost at Gleneagles
In the orgy of summit coverage something has been overlooked: the two men at
the heart of it, telling us how the world should be run, are the men
responsible for Fallujah and Abu Ghraib. By John Pilger
Over the past two weeks, the contrast between two related "global" events has
been salutary. The first was the World Tribunal on Iraq, held in Istanbul;
the second the G8 meeting in Scotland and the Make Poverty History campaign.
Reading the papers and watching television in Britain, you would know nothing
about the Istanbul meetings, which produced the most searing evidence to date
of the greatest political scandal of modern times: the attack on a
defenceless Iraq by America and Britain.
The tribunal is a serious international public inquiry into the invasion and
occupation, the kind governments dare not hold. "We are here," said the
author Arundhati Roy in Istanbul, "to examine a vast spectrum of evidence
[about the war] that has been deliberately marginalised and suppressed - its
legality, the role of international institutions and major corporations in
the occupation; the role of the media, the impact of weapons such as
depleted-uranium munitions, napalm and cluster bombs, the use and
legitimation of torture . . . This tribunal is an attempt to correct the
record: to document the history of the war not from the point of view of the
victors but of the temporarily vanquished."
"Temporarily vanquished" implies that, even faced with such rampant power, the
Iraqi people will recover. You certainly need this sense of hope when reading
the eyewitness testimonies, which demonstrate, as Roy pointed out, "that even
those of us who have tried to follow the war closely are not aware of a
fraction of the horrors that have been unleashed in Iraq".
The most shocking was given by Dahr Jamail. Unless you read the internet, you
will not know who Dahr Jamail is. He is not an amusing Baghdad blogger. For
me, he is the finest reporter working in Iraq. Together with Robert Fisk,
Patrick Cockburn and a few others, mostly freelancers, he shames the
flak-jacketed, cliche-crunching camp followers known as "embeds". A Lebanese
with US citizenship, Jamail has been almost everywhere the camp followers
have not. He has reported from the besieged city of Fallujah, whose
destruction and atrocities have been suppressed, notably by the BBC. (See
In Istanbul, Jamail bore his independent reporter's witness to the thousands
of Iraqis tortured in Abu Ghraib and other US-run prisons. His account of
what had happened to a civil servant in Baghdad was typical. This man, Ali
Abbas, had gone to a US base to inquire about his missing neighbours. On his
fourth visit, he was arrested without charge, stripped naked, hooded and
forced to simulate sex with other prisoners. This was standard procedure. He
was beaten on his genitals, electrocuted in the anus, denied water and forced
to watch as his food was thrown away. A loaded gun was held to his head to
prevent him from screaming in pain as his wrists were bound so tightly that
the blood drained from his hands. He was doused in cold water while a fan was
held to his body.
"They put on a loudspeaker," he told Jamail, "put the speakers on my ears and
said, 'Shut up, fuck, fuck, fuck!'" He was refused sleep. Excrement was wiped
on him and dogs were used on him. "Sometimes at night when he would read his
Koran," said Jamail, "[he] had to hold it in the hallway for light. 'Soldiers
would walk by and kick the Holy Koran, and sometimes they would try to piss
on it or wipe shit on it,' [Abbas] said." A female soldier told him, "Our aim
is to put you in hell . . . These are the orders we have from our superiors,
to turn your lives into hell."
Jamail described how Fallujah's hospitals have been subjected to an American
tactic of collective punishment, with US marines assaulting staff and
stopping the wounded entering, and American snipers firing at the doors and
windows, and medicines and emergency blood prevented from reaching the
hospitals. Children were shot dead in front of their families, in cold blood.
The two men ultimately responsible for this, George W Bush and Tony Blair,
attended the G8 meeting at Gleneagles. Unlike for the Iraq tribunal, there
was saturation coverage, yet no one in the "mainstream" - from the embedded
media to the Make Poverty History organisers and the accredited, acceptable
celebrities - made the obvious connection with Bush's and Blair's enduring
crime in Iraq. No one stood and said that Blair's smoke-and-mirrors "debt
cancellation" at best amounted to less than the money the government spent in
a week on brutalising Iraq, where British and American violence was the cause
of the doubling of child poverty and malnutrition since Saddam Hussein was
In Edinburgh, a shameless invitation-only meeting of Christian Aid supporters
and church leaders was addressed by Gordon Brown, a paymaster of this
carnage. Only one person asked him, "When will you stop the rape of the
poor's resources? Why are there so many conditions on aid?" This lone
protester was not referring specifically to Iraq, but to most of the world.
He was thrown out, to cheers from among the assembled Christians.
That set the theme for the G8 week: the silencing and pacifying and co-option
of real dissent and truth. It was Frantz Fanon, the great pan-Africanist
intellectual/activist, who exposed colonial greed and violence dressed up as
polite do-goodery, and nothing has changed, in Africa as in Iraq. The mawkish
images on giant screens behind the pop stars in Hyde Park beckoned a wilful,
self-satisfied ignorance. There were none of the images that television
refuses to show: of murdered Iraqi doctors with the blood streaming from
their heads, cut down by Bush's snipers.
On the front page of the Guardian, the Age of Irony was celebrated as real
life became more satirical than satire could ever be. There was Bob Geldof,
resting his smiling face on smiling Blair's shoulder, the war criminal and
his jester. Elsewhere, there was a heroically silhouetted Bono, who
celebrates men like Jeffrey Sachs as saviours of the world's poor while
lauding "compassionate" Bush's "war on terror" as one of his generation's
greatest achievements; and there again was Brown, the enforcer of unfair
rules of trade, saying incredibly that "unfair rules of trade shackle poor
people"; and Paul Wolfowitz, beaming next to the Archbishop of Canterbury:
this is the man who, before he was handed control of the World Bank, devised
much of Bush's so-called neoconservative putsch, the mendacious justification
for the bloodfest in Iraq and the notion of "endless war". And if you missed
all that, there is a downloadable PDF kit from a "ONE Campaign" e-mail to
"help you organise your very own ongoing Live 8 party". The suppression of
African singers and bands, parked where Geldof decreed, in an environmental
theme park in Cornwall far from the vaunted global audience, was described
correctly by Andy Kershaw as "musical apartheid".
Has there ever been a censorship as complete and insidious and ingenious as
this? Even when Stalin airbrushed his purged comrades from the annual
photograph on top of Lenin's mausoleum, the Russian people could fill in the
gaps. Media and cultural hype provide infinitely more powerful propaganda
weapons in the age of Blair.
With Diana, there was grief by media. With Iraq, there was war by media. Now
there is mass distraction by media, a normalising of the unmentionable that
"the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people", as
Arthur Miller wrote, "and so the evidence has to be internally denied".
Deploying the unction of Bono, Madonna, Paul McCartney, a pop-up Andrew Marr
and of course Geldof, whose Live Aid 20 years ago achieved nothing for the
people of Africa, the contemporary plunderers and pawnbrokers of that
continent have pulled off an unprecedented scam: the antithesis of 15
February 2003, when two million people brought both hearts and brains to the
streets of London.
"[Ours] is not a march in the sense of a demonstration, but more of a walk, "
said Bruce Whitehead of Make Poverty History. "The emphasis is on fun in the
sun. The intention is to welcome the G8 leaders to Scotland and ask them to
deliver trade justice, debt cancellation and increased aid to developing
In Lewis Carroll's classic, Alice asked the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter to
show her the way out of wonderland. They did, over and again, this way, that
way, until she lost her temper and brought down her dream-world, waking her
up. The people killed and maimed in Iraq and the people wilfully impoverished
in Africa by our governments and our institutions, in our name, demand that
we wake up.