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The farcical end of the American dream

The US press is supposed to be challenging the lies of this war
by: Robert Fisk on: 18th Mar, 06

It is a bright winter morning and I am sipping my first coffee of the day in
Los Angeles. My eye moves like a radar beam over the front page of the Los
Angeles Times for the word that dominates the minds of all Middle East
correspondents: Iraq. In post-invasion, post-Judith Miller mode, the American
press is supposed to be challenging the lies of this war. So the story
beneath the headline "In a Battle of Wits, Iraq's Insurgency Mastermind Stays
a Step Ahead of US" deserves to be read. Or does it?

Datelined Washington - an odd city in which to learn about Iraq, you might
think - its opening paragraph reads: "Despite the recent arrest of one of his
would-be suicide bombers in Jordan and some top aides in Iraq, insurgency
mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi has eluded capture, US authorities say, because
his network has a much better intelligence-gathering operation than they do."

Now quite apart from the fact that many Iraqis - along, I have to admit, with
myself - have grave doubts about whether Zarqawi exists, and that al-Qai'da's
Zarqawi, if he does exist, does not merit the title of "insurgency
mastermind", the words that caught my eye were "US authorities say". And as I
read through the report, I note how the Los Angeles Times sources this
extraordinary tale. I thought American reporters no longer trusted the US
administration, not after the mythical weapons of mass destruction and the
equally mythical connections between Saddam and the international crimes
against humanity of 11 September 2001. Of course, I was wrong.

Here are the sources - on pages one and 10 for the yarn spun by reporters Josh
Meyer and Mark Mazzetti: "US officials said", "said one US Justice Department
counter-terrorism official", "Officials ... said", "those officials said",
"the officials confirmed", "American officials complained", "the US officials
stressed", "US authorities believe", "said one senior US intelligence
official", "US officials said", "Jordanian officials ... said" - here, at
least is some light relief - "several US officials said", "the US officials
said", "American officials said", "officials say", "say US officials", "US
officials said", "one US counter-terrorism official said".

I do truly treasure this story. It proves my point that the Los Angeles Times
- along with the big east coast dailies - should all be called US OFFICIALS
SAY. But it's not just this fawning on political power that makes me despair.
Let's move to a more recent example of what I can only call institutionalised
racism in American reporting of Iraq. I have to thank reader Andrew Gorman
for this gem, a January Associated Press report about the killing of an Iraqi
prisoner under interrogation by US Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jnr.

Mr Welshofer, it transpired in court, had stuffed the Iraqi General Abed Hamed
Mowhoush head-first into a sleeping bag and sat on his chest, an action which
- not surprisingly - caused the general to expire. The military jury ordered
- reader, hold your breath - a reprimand for Mr Welshofer, the forfeiting of
$6,000 of his salary and confinement to barracks for 60 days. But what caught
my eye was the sympathetic detail. Welshofer's wife's Barbara, the AP told
us, "testified that she was worried about providing for their three children
if her husband was sentenced to prison. 'I love him more for fighting this,'
she said, tears welling up in her eyes. 'He's always said that you need to do
the right thing, and sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing to do'".

Yes, I guess torture is tough on the torturer. But try this from the same
report: "Earlier in the day ... Mr Welshofer fought back tears. 'I deeply
apologise if my actions tarnish the soldiers serving in Iraq,' he said."

Note how the American killer's remorse is directed not towards his helpless
and dead victim but to the honour of his fellow soldiers, even though an
earlier hearing had revealed that some of his colleagues watched Welshofer
stuffing the general into the sleeping bag and did nothing to stop him. An
earlier AP report stated that "officials" - here we go again - "believed
Mowhoush had information that would 'break the back of the insurgency'." Wow.
The general knew all about 40,000 Iraqi insurgents. So what a good idea to
stuff him upside down inside a sleeping bag and sit on his chest.

But the real scandal about these reports is we're not told anything about the
general's family. Didn't he have a wife? I imagine the tears were "welling up
in her eyes" when she was told her husband had been done to death. Didn't the
general have children? Or parents? Or any loved ones who "fought back tears"
when told of this vile deed? Not in the AP report he didn't. General Mowhoush
comes across as an object, a dehumanised creature who wouldn't let the
Americans "break the back" of the insurgency after being stuffed headfirst
into a sleeping bag.

Now let's praise the AP. On an equally bright summer's morning in Australia a
few days ago I open the Sydney Morning Herald. It tells me, on page six, that
the news agency, using the Freedom of Information Act, has forced US
authorities to turn over 5,000 pages of transcripts of hearings at the
Guantanamo Bay prison camp. One of them records the trial of since-released
British prisoner Feroz Abbasi, in which Mr Abbasi vainly pleads with his
judge, a US air force colonel, to reveal the evidence against him, something
he says he has a right to hear under international law.

And here is what the American colonel replied: "Mr Abbasi, your conduct is
unacceptable and this is your absolute final warning. I do not care about
international law. I do not want to hear the words international law. We are
not concerned about international law."

Alas, these words - which symbolise the very end of the American dream - are
buried down the story. The colonel, clearly a disgrace to the uniform he
wears, does not appear in the bland headline ("US papers tell Guantanamo
inmates' stories") of the Sydney paper, more interested in telling us that
the released documents identify by name the "farmers, shopkeepers or
goatherds" held in Guantanamo.

I am now in Wellington, New Zealand, watching on CNN Saddam Hussein's attack
on the Baghdad court trying him. And suddenly, the ghastly Saddam disappears
from my screen. The hearing will now proceed in secret, turning this drumhead
court into even more of a farce. It is a disgrace. And what does CNN
respectfully tell us? That the judge has "suspended media coverage"!

If only, I say to myself, CNN - along with the American press - would do the
source: The Independent