Category: Alerts 2003
- Created on 17 December 2003
- 14 November 2010
"Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down... Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused." (Woodrow Wilson, 1907)
Stony Silences - The Comsat Commissars
Reviewing the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein on the day of his capture by American troops, ITN's Trevor Macdonald described yet again the gassing of civilians at Halabja in March 1988:
"It was an atrocity met by a stony silence from the West who at that stage regarded the Iraqi president as a much needed ally in the Middle East." (ITN News Special, December 14, 2003)
In fact the British government's view of the atrocity was expressed loud and clear in its doubling of export credits to Baghdad, which rose from £175 million in 1987 to £340 million in 1988. A UK Department of Trade and Industry press release of November 1988 described how "this substantial increase reflects the confidence of the British government in the long term strength of the Iraqi economy and the opportunities for an increased level of trade between our two countries following the ceasefire in the Gulf War". (Quoted, Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit, Vintage, 2003, p.36)
Five months after Halabja, Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe noted in a secret report that "opportunities for sales of defence equipment to Iran and Iraq will be considerable". In October 1989, Foreign office minister William Waldegrave wrote of Iraq: "I doubt if there is any future market of such a scale anywhere where the UK is potentially so well-placed" and that "the priority of Iraq in our policy should be very high". (Ibid, p.37)
In the first year after Halabja, the British government steadfastly refused to accept that its ally had used chemical weapons, stating that the evidence "was compelling but not conclusive". Human Rights Watch reported recently that the evidence it collected on Halabja at the time was simply ignored by the Foreign Office. The British government, it seems, was "singularly unreceptive". (Ibid)
On August 18, 2002, the New York Times reported how in the 1980s the Reagan administration secretly provided "critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war". Walter Lang, a former senior US defence intelligence officer added: "The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern."
The Times' story was quickly buried and forgotten.
Soon after Halabja, the US approved the export of virus cultures and a $1 billion contract to design and build a petrochemical plant that the Iraqis planned to use to produce mustard gas. Profits were the bottom line. Indeed "so powerful was the grip of the pro-Baghdad lobby on the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan", Dilip Hiro notes in the Observer, "that it got the White House to foil the Senate's attempt to penalise Iraq for its violation of the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons to which it was a signatory". (Hiro, 'When US turned a blind eye to poison gas', The Observer, September 1, 2002)
The US continued to support Iraq after the Iran-Iraq war because of "our duty to support US exports" the State Department declared in early 1990. (Quoted Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, Routledge, 2003, p.111)
Recent reports by the US Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban affairs, reveal that the US sold anthrax, nerve gas, West Nile fever germs and botulinum to Iraq up until March 1992, even after the 1991 Gulf War, and four years after Halabja.
This is the same "pragmatic" Western approach being pursued now in support of mass murderers in Russia, Turkey, Colombia, Algeria and elsewhere - leaders who could become the next "new Hitler" at the drop of a hat were they ever to repeat Saddam's mistake by crossing the West.
Warning shots were fired earlier this year when the Turkish government refused to allow a US land attack on Iraq from its borders. Having consistently ignored atrocities against Turkish Kurds with US weapons, the US media suddenly began writing of "Turkey's ghastly record of torturing, killing, and 'disappearing' Turkish Kurds and destroying more than 3,000 of their villages." (Editorial, Boston Globe, March 6, 2003)
The murderous history of crucial, vigorous US-UK support for Iraqi crimes is rewritten by ITN as the West responding with "a stony silence" - disapproving, we might presume, but helpless to intervene.
Very Important And Very Ironic
Why has "the Left" so abjectly failed to support the people of Iraq by opposing the war to topple their tyrant? So asks Nick Cohen in the Observer:
"Just before the war, Jose Ramos-Horta, one of the leaders of the struggle for independence of East Timor, looked on the anti-war protesters and asked: 'Why did I not see one single banner or hear one speech calling for the end of human rights abuses in Iraq, the removal of the dictator and freedom for the Iraqis and the Kurdish people?'." (Cohen, 'By the left... about turn', The Observer, December 14, 2003)
Cohen's comments are a good example of exact mainstream truth-reversal. While media commentators had next to nothing to say about the West's complicity in Saddam's atrocities - just as they have nothing to say about support for Turkey, Russia and Colombia's atrocities now - dissidents vigorously opposed Western support for the tyrant. In 1992, Jeff Cohen of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) described how the media, shrieking with horrified outrage at Saddam's crimes now, responded at the time he was actually committing those crimes with our support:
"During that whole period when the United States was helping build up the military and economic might of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the issue of his human rights abuses was off the media agenda. There was this classic in the New York Post, a tabloid in New York. After the [Gulf] crisis began, they had a picture of Saddam Hussein patting the British kid on the head and their banner headline was 'Child Abuser'. That was very important to us and very ironic, because Amnesty International and other human rights groups had released studies in 1984 and 1985 which showed that Saddam Hussein's regime regularly tortured children to get information about their parents' views. That just didn't get the coverage.
"It shows one of the points FAIR has made constantly: that when a foreign government is in favour with the United States, with the White House, its human rights record is basically off the mainstream media agenda, and when they do something that puts them out of favour with the US government, the foreign government's human rights abuses are, all of a sudden, major news." (Jeff Cohen in conversation with David Barsamian - Stenographers To Power, Common Courage Press, 1992, p.142)
Even this level of media subservience was insufficient for US leaders in the 1980s and 1990s. When a delegation led by Majority Leader and future presidential candidate Bob Dole visited Saddam in April 1990, they conveyed President Bush's greetings and assured Saddam that his problems did not lie with the US government but with "the haughty and pampered [US] press". Senator Alan Simpson advised Saddam to "invite them to come here and see for themselves". Dole assured Saddam that a commentator who had been critical of Iraq on Voice of America had been removed. (Quoted Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, op., cit, p.112)
On the same news special, ITN's International Editor Bill Neely added of a possible war crimes trial:
"Awkward things will come out of this trial. Saddam will love saying, 'Who backed me in the 1980s? Who armed me? Who gave me the weapons of mass destruction? Why, the United States!'"
The exposure of participation in crimes consistently described as "genocidal" by the media is merely "awkward". This together with Macdonald's earlier comment was as much as ITN managed to say of Western support for Saddam Hussein in a report lasting 40 minutes.
Over on BBC1, Rageh Omaar made a similarly fleeting gesture in the direction of truth in reviewing Saddam's life over (one more time) footage from Halabja:
"Saddam Hussein has not always been our enemy. Indeed he was our ally when he committed this atrocity.
"And he was supported by Britain and the US in the catastrophic war against neighbouring Iran, an eight-year titanic struggle which left a million dead and in which Saddam Hussein again used chemical weapons. But for the West he was a useful bulwark against the spread of Ayatollah Khomeini's branch of radical Islam, and so support of him was maintained." (Omaar, BBC1, December 14, 2003)
In fact Saddam was an ally of the West long before Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979 and long before (and after) the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Author Roger Morris observes:
"As its instrument the CIA had chosen the authoritarian and anti-Communist Baath Party, in 1963 still a relatively small political faction influential in the Iraqi Army. According to the former Baathist leader Hani Fkaiki, among party members colluding with the CIA in 1962 and 1963 was Saddam Hussein...
"According to Western scholars, as well as Iraqi refugees and a British human rights organization, the 1963 coup was accompanied by a bloodbath. Using lists of suspected Communists and other leftists provided by the CIA, the Baathists systematically murdered untold numbers of Iraq's educated elite - killings in which Saddam Hussein himself is said to have participated." (Morris, 'A Tyrant 40 Years in the Making,' The New York Times, March 14, 2003)
As we have seen, the "duty to support US exports" meant that the US continued to support Saddam long after Iran's capitulation ended the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.
Again, Omaar's vague comments of how Saddam had been an "ally" who "was supported by Britain and the US" was as much as the BBC had to say in its 35-minute report. Vast crimes against humanity, direct and vital US-UK involvement in mass killing - why bother with details? The emphasis on Saddam as a "bulwark" against "radical Islam" is classic media distortion transforming the horrific subordination of human beings to profit and power into a reasoned act of self-defence against the "mad Mullahs" that the public have been trained to hate and fear.
As ever, while detailing Saddam's crimes in minute detail, it was impossible for the media to suggest that Western support for the Iraqi tyrant might have been something other than a random blip; that it might have been part of a well-documented and extremely consistent pattern in US and UK foreign policy.
To sample at random, a month after the CIA, with British support, helped install a regime which went on to kill some 200,000 people in Guatemala, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden wrote to the newly-installed puppet:
"Please convey to His Excellency the President the good wishes of Her Majesty's Government and accept the assurance of my highest consideration." (Quoted, Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p.154)
The Shah of Iran, also installed by a CIA coup, presided over a boiling bloodbath of torture and killing. As the death toll peaked, President Carter declared:
"Iran under the great leadership of the Shah is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership, and to the respect, admiration and love which your people give to you." (Quoted, James Bill, Foreign Affairs, Winter, 1978-79)
In 1983 Vice President Bush expressed his admiration for Romanian dictator Ceaucescu's political and economic progress and his "respect for human rights". (Quoted, Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, op., cit, p.113)
Current favourites include dictators in Central Asia - Uzbekistan's Karimov and Turkmenistan's Niyazov, for example - serving US interests in resource-rich areas. US assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, William Burns, says Washington has "much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight terrorism". (Ibid, p.115) This of the generals who have subjected the country to a reign of terror since the country's first democratic elections were cancelled having produced the wrong result in 1991 - victory for an Islamist party. The list goes on...
Our journalists somehow fail to notice the entire historical record (including state documentation), and find nothing strange in the fact that the West has long supported the likes of Suharto, Pinochet, the Shah, Papa and Baby Doc, Somoza, Galtieri, Trujillo, Diem, Amin, et al.
The US and UK select, arm, install and protect these thugs because an "iron fist" is required to ensure "good investment climates" in the Third World.
A good investment climate means low cost access to resources, unimpeded by democratic constraints. Low cost access means poverty wages, no welfare safety system (which would give the poor an option other than working for poverty wages), no trade unions (which might seek to improve the condition of the poor), no community organisations (which might threaten to raise costs by enabling peasants to organise against exploitation). Workers should have minimal rights: no restrictions on hours worked, no safety standards, no restrictions on the use of dangerous pesticides and banned Western products generally, all of which would increase costs.
The consistent nature of Western foreign policy suggests that focusing on individual leaders and parties - finding cause for optimism in Tony Blair's endearing smile or George Bush's Christian faith - is a gross form of self-deception at best. Policy flows from a stable framework of domestic power pursuing similar goals in similar ways over many decades.
This institutional framework is rooted, not just in greed, but in the limitless greed of corporate fundamentalism - there are no limits, no acceptable costs that have to be tolerated where they can be avoided. People pay the price.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Ask the media why they have so little to say about US and UK complicity in the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein. Cut and paste and send them all or part of this Media Alert - ask the journalists and editors below why they have failed to mention these readily available facts.
Category: Alerts 2003
- Created on 08 December 2003
- 14 November 2010
Comparing the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent
By Matthew Randall
Introduction: Distorted Agendas
As a rule, UK parliamentary debate on asylum and immigration is both selective and power serving. While the actual demographic and economic effects of immigration on the UK are rarely discussed, the causes of immigration - global inequality, conflict and human rights abuses - are ignored.
Irrespective of party, leading politicians repeatedly highlight issues of exclusion - fears of 'invasion', alleged 'threats' and actual prejudices - ensuring a very negative image of immigrants despite their statistically small impact on society (see below). Concerns over crime, disease, terrorism, detention and surveillance are consistently pushed well to the fore.
This lack of balance can be attributed to a number of factors, including the existence of a covert racist ideology and the political expediency of 'the race card' - factors that repeatedly compromise the welfare of refugees and immigrants.
Honest consideration of asylum and immigration issues should involve a far more diverse range of topics, reflecting the complexity of contemporary national and global relations. These include issues of nationalism, sovereignty, racism, demography, human rights, arms sales, war, refugee health, economic policy and moral responsibility.
Liberal Media Balance?
A truly independent and honest 'quality' press would include debate on these marginalised issues, providing readers with a balance to the distorted focus of party politics. But does this happen? What +do+ we actually read in broadsheet newspapers on asylum and immigration? Which themes are consistently emphasised? And who speaks to us through these articles - who sets the agenda for discussion?
Is appropriate coverage given, for example, to the fact that in 2001 the UK had only 169,370 officially recognized refugees living within its borders compared to Germany's 988,500, Iran's 1.9 million or Pakistan's 2.2 million? Are we made sufficiently aware that during the same year the UK received 71,365 applicants for asylum, granting this status to just 11,180 individuals - 0.02% of the UK population? Or that Pakistan received a single influx of 199,900 Afghan refugees? Or that the ten largest refugee movements in 2001 were, with the exception of Yugoslavia, all made between countries in the Third World?
How many of us learn from our press that UK population growth is slowing down to the extent that it has actually become a cause for concern? How many are aware that a 2002 UN report recommended "replacement immigration" as a solution to this problem, or that the recommendation was rejected by the European Commission on the grounds that the impact of immigration on population was insignificant?
What do the media have to say about the fact that the UK has recently sold arms to all five countries of origin topping the UK list of asylum applicants in 2001? This, despite the fact that, in each case, violent military conflict remains the dominant root cause of refugee flight. More generally, what emphasis is placed on adverse conditions in countries of origin - poverty, human rights abuses, global income disparity, conflict and torture - in articles concerned with asylum and immigration?
A Case Study: Immigration, The Propaganda Model, and Three UK Newspapers
With these and other questions in mind, the following case study was carried out to compare articles from the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and the Independent. The methodology was not complex. Using an archive search at each of the newspaper's websites, the first thirty articles in 2003 with titles displaying any of a set of keywords: 'asylum', 'asylum seeker(s)', 'immigration', 'refugee(s)' were located and used as a representative sample. These ninety articles were then analysed to record the themes/topics discussed. An article merely had to refer once to a certain topic to be counted as having mentioned it, even if this reference consisted of one sentence.
The secondary element of the case study involved identifying the 'voice' of the articles, reflecting the opinions or perspectives consulted and who was being directly quoted. All opinions and perspectives referred to in an article were included in the initial count irrespective of whether these were later criticised either by the journalist or by any other group.
The hypothesis being tested proposed that the three newspapers chosen would all, despite perceived differing political leanings, discuss topics and themes in line with the interests of elite power, as predicted by Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model of media control. More specifically it was predicted that macro themes - particularly those reflecting badly on Western state-corporate power and those providing a more global perspective on asylum and immigration - would be marginalised, reflecting the preferred focus of dominant elites.
It was also hypothesised that micro issues, such as asylum accommodation and welfare payments, would be discussed at great length and would form the dominant theme of this sample, with topics involving negative portrayals of immigration - illegality, terrorism, crime and disease - also pushed well to the fore.
A further prediction was that the opinions consulted would heavily favour powerful interests, as predicted by the propaganda model's third filter (the sourcing of mass media news). In this way it was anticipated that high-ranking politicians would form the major 'voice' of the articles, with the people most affected by the issues discussed, i.e. asylum seekers/immigrants, being heard less often, if at all.
Same Difference - Media Themes
One of the immediately striking results of the case study is the consistent unity of themes across the different newspapers. The three most popular themes are the same for all papers, consisting of exclusion policies aimed at 'bogus' asylum applicants (mentioned in 73% of the Guardian articles / Independent: 80% / Telegraph: 73%), crime/terrorism perpetrated by asylum seekers (Guardian: 56% / Independent: 60% / Telegraph: 66%) and the accommodation/detention of applicants awaiting decisions (Guardian: 60% / Independent: 26% / Telegraph: 36%).
At the other end of the scale, five major themes fail to attract even one sentence in all ninety articles. These are: effects of immigration on UK population figures, poverty/ income disparity in sending countries, effects of the arms trade, effects of Western economic policies in sending countries, and comparisons of UK refugee intake with Third World countries.
According to the study, the leading topics for press debate on asylum and immigration are clearly micro issues, irrespective of a newspaper's political ideology. The two most dominant themes both reflect negatively on the subject of discussion: the criminal/terrorist activities of asylum seekers/ immigrants, and policies to exclude 'bogus'/illegal individuals from the UK.
The opinions conveyed on these matters vary between journalists and newspapers. The fact remains, however, that when a reader opened these newspapers and read an article mentioning asylum, refugee or immigration in the title, 56% of the articles mentioned crime or terrorism and at least 73% discussed policies designed to exclude fraudulent applications.
It is interesting to compare coverage afforded to crime committed by asylum seekers/immigrants with coverage afforded to crime committed +against+ them by other groups. The Telegraph, for example, discusses the former in exactly two thirds of the case study, while failing to make one reference to the latter. The other two newspapers also follow this trend, albeit to a slightly lesser degree. Overall, in the ninety articles, 61% refer to immigrant criminal activities, with just 8.8% mentioning crimes against immigrants.
These figures tell us much about the degree to which these articles discuss issues that promote fear and prejudice in the UK population, a choice that is closely aligned with the agenda of political elites. The issue of asylum and immigration is reported in terms of a 'threat' and 'invasion' despite a lack of statistical evidence supporting such dramatic claims. Thus, as can be seen from the above example, the huge number of crimes committed against immigrants - ranging from torture, forced eviction and illegal detention in their countries of origin to property abuse and physical violence in the UK - is given far less attention than the much smaller proportion of crimes committed by immigrants themselves.
Continuing this trend, all three newspapers produce more articles referencing the health risks from immigrants (an unsubstantiated concern dismissed as early as 1903 by the Royal Commission on Aliens), than those mentioning the health of asylum seekers who often arrive recovering from trauma, torture, malnutrition and physical violence.
Macro Themes - Minor Coverage
As predicted, macro themes are very poorly represented in this case study. Comparative analyses of immigration and asylum worldwide are barely referenced at all. When this does briefly emerge, the issue in all cases involves a positive commentary on the strict exclusion policies of other European countries, and not, as might be expected, any analysis of the UK's comparatively low intake. Discussion of the number of refugees and migrants entering and living in non-western countries is completely absent from all ninety articles - a major omission given the huge statistical discrepancies existing between these two groups and the clear relevance this would have for UK policy.
Other macro themes focusing on important root causes of immigration and refugee flight, such as war, torture, poverty and oppression, are referred to fleetingly, if at all. The effects of poverty and inequality in sending countries are deemed unworthy of mention in any newspaper despite extensive coverage detailing politicians' condemnations of 'bogus' and 'illegal' 'economic immigration'.
Analysis of the economic conditions that might lie behind these 'illegal' attempts to enter the UK is therefore absent. War and violent conflict are mentioned in just eight of ninety articles in all three newspapers, a very low figure when compared with the thirty-seven articles discussing the relatively minor issue of asylum seeker accommodation. That these articles were published during the intensive build-up to the US/UK invasion of Iraq did not appear to have any affect on this figure, despite the fact that a large proportion of UK asylum applicants arrive from Iraq.
Only one article in the Guardian discusses the potential effect of the invasion on refugee numbers. This minimal coverage reflects a general failure to discuss the situation in sending countries. In each newspaper this theme warrants a reference in just two articles, 6% of the material studied.
The fundamental macro issue of demography - indicating both the insignificant effects of immigration on population growth and its potentially positive effects on the UK's aging population - is not mentioned throughout the case study.
Macro issues that might embarrass powerful state-corporate interests are also ignored or neglected. Two major examples include the impacts of the arms trade and economic trade liberalisation. The former receives no mention at all, while the latter is hinted at (indirectly) in one piece in the Guardian. This consists of a brief sentence by a Catholic Bishop, stating that asylum seekers were a symptom of "a tragically disordered world; victims of unjust social, economic and political structures."
The one 'awkward' theme for elites that appears to receive a proportionate share of coverage is that of human rights. This issue is referenced in nineteen of the ninety articles, a total of 21%. However this exception becomes less outstanding when the nature of the references becomes clear: sixteen of these nineteen references relate to the same story - initiated by comments from both government and opposition politicians - that the UK might be forced to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights in order to continue its justified exclusion of certain asylum seekers.
Although this is a human rights issue, it is placed in the context of exclusion policies and 'bogus' asylum applicants. This limits to just three articles any mention of human rights abuses in the country of origin - abuses that might have caused the original application to be made, and which cast a far less negative light on the subject of asylum and immigration.
An interesting, perhaps ironic, footnote to the thematic results involves the eight references made to media coverage. Both the Guardian and the Independent provide a number of articles denouncing what they describe as the essentially racist coverage of tabloid and right-wing newspapers, including the third news outlet in this case study, the Daily Telegraph. The latter does not follow this theme and has no articles mentioning media coverage.
However, as this case study shows, although opinions expressed on immigration themes certainly illustrate ideological differences between 'right-wing' newspapers such as the Telegraph and the more 'liberal' Independent/Guardian, there is clear conformity when it comes to deciding +which+ themes to discuss - a fundamental conformity which closely follows the predictions of the propaganda model. Comment on this aspect of coverage does not feature in the Guardian/ Independent articles criticising media performance.
As predicted, the major opinion groups consulted by all three newspapers were either government or opposition politicians. Overall the opinions of politicians are referenced in seventy-two of the ninety articles, or 80% of the material studied. By contrast, the major subjects of discussion, i.e. immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, express their views in five articles, 6% of the case study.
In the Daily Telegraph, politicians are quoted in twenty-three of the thirty articles whereas only one asylum seeker is afforded an equivalent forum. Even this one exception consists of only two short sentences. In the Independent statements by politicians are referenced in 76% of its articles while the opinions of asylum seekers and refugees can be heard in only 3% of the sample.
The second major group represented in the articles are non-governmental (NGO) spokespeople who have their opinions recorded in just under a third of the case study. This would seem to suggest a certain level of balance afforded to people outside elite political circles. However a closer analysis shows that politicians remain overwhelmingly the agenda-setters in these articles with NGO representatives very seldom initiating the subject of the news item. Their role is very much confined to reaction and comment. Of the fifteen Guardian articles that give NGO opinions, ten are in specific reply to a government initiative or statement.
This essentially passive role in defining which events are newsworthy, results in a clear lack of themes that one would expect to be highlighted by organisations working directly with refugees and asylum seekers. Only two Guardian articles provide exceptions to this trend, with one warning of a refugee crisis and the other highlighting the racist violence visited on immigrants.
Despite the substantial body of academic research devoted to the subject of immigration and asylum, the opinions of independent academics are effectively absent from the case study. Only one article of the ninety references an academic source. Even this one exception does not quote a scientific study, choosing instead to mention an anecdotal account of a Cambridge professor.
The huge dominance of party political opinion in the case study lends particular credence to the propaganda model's third filter. Analysis of media sourcing demonstrates that UK newsgathering has a strong symbiotic relationship with political elites ensuring that a substantial number of articles are formed around government press releases and statements of policy. Groups without recourse to large public relations resources - such as asylum seekers, refugees and the predominantly small NGOs that represent them - tend not to set the agenda for issues under discussion.
The results of this case study indicate a consistent tendency amongst ideologically distinct newspapers to focus on aspects of immigration and asylum that concur with the priorities of the political elite. These are aspects, moreover, that represent an extremely narrow range of information and opinion.
The argument is not that individual journalists necessarily support the agenda of political elites - many articles argue fiercely against government policy. However, indirect support of this agenda occurs through the significant avoidance and omission of important themes and issues that should form regular and central points of reference.
Matthew Randall lives, works and studies in Berlin, Germany, where he recently completed a postgraduate Masters Degree in Intercultural Work and Conflict Management.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Category: Alerts 2003
- Created on 03 December 2003
- 14 November 2010
On November 20, we received the following email from Johann Hari of the Independent in response to our Media Alert, Friendly Bombs, Part 1 (November 20, 2003):
Dear David and David,
Thank you for your e-mail. While I obviously disagree profoundly with you, I am never less than provoked and stimulated by your alerts, which provide a very valuable function in making journalists justify their position.
As I'm sure you can understand, I am insanely rushed but I hope you will accept this brief response.
We have a legitimate disagreement over what the Iraqi people want. I made clear before the war that we could not know what Iraqi people wanted with the scientific certainty of a MORI poll (I don't have time to check quotes but all my pre-war articles are amply available on my website, http://www.johannhari.com. Pore through them if you are self-punishing enough and you'll find everything I mention here). However, the International Crisis Group survey and my own limited experiences with the Iraqi people in Iraq itself and my more extensive experiences with the Iraqi exile community led me to believe that there was support for the invasion.
This was subsequently proven to be correct, because every single opinion poll following the liberation - produced by firms who have successfully predicted the results of general elections across the world - showed that Iraqis wanted the invasion to proceed. I am basing my interpretation of Iraqi opinion on polls, the best source of information that we have. You seem to be basing yours on guesswork, supposition and telepathy.
I was also, of course, basing my view on the experience of Northern Iraq, where, under US and British military protection since 1991, the Kurds have built a thriving democracy. Why do you never mention this? Do you congratulate the Kurds on their incredible achievement - 70 free newspapers, a democratic parliament and Prime M inister (who supported the invasion of the South), and female High Court judges - I know that the Americans allowed Turkish troops to attack Kurdish freedom fighters on a handful of occassions, and I am appalled by that - but does it undnermine the whole achievement and make their democracy meaningless? Of course not.
The same sanctions applied in Northern Iraq as in Saddam's tyranny, and all the factors which you attribute to sanctions and I attribute to Saddam did not occur. How do you explain that? Please don't just give me quotes from Dennis Halliday and say "he knows better than you": actually answer the argument.
You ask when the United States changed its mind from supporting tyranny in the Muslim countries (as your friend George Galloway has in the past: I refer you to his Mail on Sunday article in which he says that ""in poor third world countries like Pakistan, politics is too important to be left to petty squabbling politicians. Pakistan is always on the brink of breaking apart into its widely disparate components. Only the armed forces can really be counted on to hold such a country together ... Democracy is a means, not an end in itself."). I refer you to George Bush, who said apologised yesterday for "decades of failed US policy in the Middle East? we should not tolerate oppression for the sake of stability." Nor, he
implied, should they fund and arm it. Yes, it will take time to turn around all US policy: we can discuss (and must campaign about) the horrors of Uzbekistan and the House of Saud. But I believe it is beginning.
Do I think the US will promote deep democracy, a form better than our own corporate semi-democracy? Of course not. It will be deeply imperfect and bounded within neoconservative precepts that you and I reject. But it will be a damn sight better than Ba'athist Stalinism, and it was worth fighting for.
It is a shame that you have to imply that every single person who disagrees with you has some sinister mission to corrupt the truth. For example, you act as though you have cunningly exposed that I went to Iraq in September 2002 as part of a holiday tour. Yes: I cunningly disguised this by writing it as a front page story for the Guardian.
I hope you'll understand if I don't enter into a lengthy dialogue, although I will be very interested in your response. I also hope you'll understand that I feel your revelation that you would not have fought a war against Nazism but rather would have spent your energies informing the British people that they were complicit while gay people and Jews were systematically murdered on the other side of the Channel somewhat undermines your ability to take the moral high ground on issues pertaining to tyranny.
Lastly, I hope the people who have e-mailed in response to your original message will accept this response.
Thanks again for an interesting media alert,
Many thanks for your kind words. We appreciate your taking the time to respond at such length.
You say that you accept one "could not know what the Iraqi people wanted with the scientific certainty of a MORI poll", and yet in the Independent you have written repeatedly of "the indisputable wishes of the Iraqi people". (Hari, 'The state visit of President Bush: I support Bush on Iraq - but I'll join the protests', The Independent, November 19, 2003)
"Indisputable" suggests certainty, does it not?
It is curious that you focus so intensely on the highly uncertain wishes of the Iraqi people, and yet you ignore the very clear democratic wish of the British people +not+ to invade and bomb them. This time last year support for invasion without UN backing stood at barely 10% anywhere outside the United States. In January, 81% of the British public was opposed to unilateral military action by the US and UK, with 47% opposed to war in all circumstances. Only 10% of those polled believed that the war should start regardless of UN backing. (Alan Travis, 'Support for war falls to new low,' The Guardian, January 21, 2003)
Surely your respect for the indisputable wishes of the British people means you should have been fiercely opposed to war.
You describe our analysis of Iraqi opinion polls as "guesswork, supposition and telepathy". In reality, like most journalists we debate with, you have simply ignored the points we made: the poll of Iraqis mentioned by Jonathan Steele in the Guardian, the absence of "concrete evidence" of Iraqi support for invasion, the ICG's establishment links and sympathies, and so on.
You also ignored our point that the Iraqi people "cheering us on" were in reality facing a miserable choice between war or continued genocidal sanctions that had already claimed one million lives. A reasonable range of options presented by pollsters might, for example, have included:
No invasion but continued genocidal sanctions and bombing with Saddam Hussein retaining power.
US/UK invasion deposing Saddam Hussein.
UN-backed invasion deposing Saddam Hussein by a genuinely international coalition under the auspices of the UN.
Full Iraqi compliance with UNMOVIC inspections leading to 100% disarmament of WMD and the lifting of non-military sanctions, with Saddam retaining power.
In your Independent articles, you have presented no evidence to suggest that the Iraqi people were polled on such a range of options. Even if they had been, Iraqis might well have felt inclined to simply ignore options that avoided war but which were clearly not on the West's agenda. It is absurd to state that the Iraq people freely chose the invasion while looking down the barrel of a gun.
It is interesting to consider the latest polls of the people you claim were "cheering us on" during the invasion. An October poll by Iraq's Centre for Research and Strategic Studies showed that 67 per cent of Iraqis viewed "coalition" forces as "occupying powers", more than 20 per cent higher than a survey conducted shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein. According to the poll, the number of Iraqis who viewed the coalition as a "liberating" force had dropped from 43 to 15 per cent, with very few feeling safe in the presence of the police or occupying armies. (Peter Beaumont, 'US helicopter shot down in Iraq', The Observer, October 26, 2003)
Oxford Research International (ORI), sampled the views of 3,244 Iraqis interviewed in their own homes in October and early November. They found that 79 percent of people questioned had "no trust" or "very little trust" in the US-led "coalition" - 8 percent said they had a great deal of confidence in the occupying force. 42 percent said they had a great deal of trust in Iraq's religious leaders.
The authors of the survey said: "The very troops which liberated Iraqis from Saddam are the most mistrusted institution in Iraq today." http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20031201/ts_nm/iraq_survey_dc&cid=564&ncid=1473
You refer to the situation in Northern Iraq. Echoing familiar government propaganda, you write: "The same sanctions applied in Northern Iraq as in Saddam's tyranny, and all the factors which you attribute to sanctions and I attribute to Saddam did not occur."
The reality is revealed by considering the issue of child mortality. While it is true that child mortality rates were lower in the autonomous north than in south/central regions controlled by Saddam Hussein, UNICEF noted that, "the difference [in child mortality rates] cannot be attributed to the differing ways the Oil for Food Programme is implemented in the two parts of Iraq".
The same point was reiterated by UN humanitarian co-ordinator, Tun Myat, who noted on several occasions that the "improvement in nutrition in the north was not due to differences in distribution, or the fact that the United Nations was responsible for implementation of the programme in the north". (UN Press Briefing, November 19, 2000)
Important differences between the north and the south/centre described by the UN included:
· "that the sanctions have not been so rigorously enforced in the north as the border is more 'porous' than in the [south/centre]". (UNICEF, August 1999)
· that the north, with roughly 15% of Iraq's population, has 50% of Iraq's productive arable land. (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, September 2000)
· that the north "received 22% more per capita [than the south/centre] and gets 10% of all UN-controlled assistance in currency" while the rest of the country received only commodities. (UNICEF, August 1999)
· "the fact that the north has received far more support per capita from the international community than the south and centre of the country". (UNICEF, August 1999)
You write, "The same sanctions applied in Northern Iraq as in Saddam's tyranny." But Professor Richard Garfield, a leading epidemiologist at Columbia University, pointed out in the New York Times on September 13, 1999, that the embargo in the North is "not the same embargo":
"The North enjoys porous borders with Turkey, Syria, and Iran, and thus is effectively less embargoed than the rest of the country. It benefits from the aid of 34 Non-Government Organizations, while in the whole rest of the country there are only 11...
"Food, medicine, and water pumps are now helping reduce mortality throughout Iraq, but the pumps do less for sanitation where authorities cannot buy sand, hire day laborers, or find many other minor inputs to make filtration plants work. Goods have been approved by the UN and distributed to the North far faster than in the Center or South. The UN Security Council treats people in that part of the country like innocents. Close to 20 million civilians in the Center and South of the country deserve the same treatment."
Finally, Gabriel Carlyle of Voices In The Wilderness UK, told us, "it is interesting to note that child mortality rates in south/central Iraq were also lower in some of those areas close to the border with the autonomous governorates, where similar conditions prevail and where people have been able to fall back on traditional patterns of life". (Email to Media Lens, January 16, 2003)
You celebrate "a democratic parliament and Prime Minister (who supported the invasion of the South)" in northern Iraq. This will be Barham Salah, the prime minister who said of the oil-for-food programme that has left Iraq devastated:
"The oil-for-food programme is a good programme; it must continue. It is the best thing that has happened to Iraq since the foundation of the Iraqi state. By the way, not only for the Kurdish areas but also for the rest of Iraq, because we never had it so good - all Iraqis not just Kurds." (Interviewed in The Mother of all Ironies, by John Sweeney, Correspondent, BBC2, June 23, 2002)
This is crude pro-Western propaganda, but then Salah is doubtless sensitive to the harsh realities of realpolitik in "democratic" northern Iraq. Perhaps he had read the New York Times report in March 2002 noting that the Bush administration had assured its Turkish ally that in the event of an invasion it would "ensure Iraq's territorial integrity" and not allow the creation of an independent Kurdish state. (New York Times, March 10, 2002)
This makes perfect sense given, rhetorical flourishes aside, the consistent US policy of indifference to the Kurds and their suffering. Ten days after the gassing of 5,000 Kurds at Halabja in March 1988, Jim Hoagland made an accurate prediction in the Washington Post:
"Washington's friendship for Baghdad is likely to survive one night of poison gas and sickening television film. TV moves on, shock succeeds shock, the day's horror becomes distant memory. The Kurds will stay on history's margins, and policy will have continuity." (Hoagland, Washington Post, March 26, 1988)
"Iraq has not paid much of a diplomatic price for its actions," the Christian Science Monitor noted on December 13 that same year. Indeed, on September 8, 1988, when US Secretary of State George Shultz met with Saadun Hamadi, Iraq's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in Washington, he expressed merely "concern" about Halabja. "The approach we want to take [toward Iraq] is that, 'We want to have a good relationship with you, but that this sort of thing [the Halabja massacre] makes it very difficult,'" a State Department official explained. (Quoted, Anthony Arnove, 'Convenient And Not So Convenient Massacres', ZNet Commentary, March 28, 2002)
In explaining "when the United States changed its mind from supporting tyranny in the Muslim countries" you refer "to George Bush, who said [sic] apologised yesterday for 'decades of failed US policy in the Middle East - we should not tolerate oppression for the sake of stability'."
It is remarkable that you should present as serious evidence the words of a president who has this year revealed an almost infinite capacity for deceit.
You refer to an alleged revolution in American foreign policy in the above message and also in a second email - we will return to this in our next alert.
We have never suggested that any journalist is on a "sinister mission to corrupt the truth". We are forever pointing out that we reject sinister conspiracy theories of this kind - the idea that journalists are involved in dark "missions" to deceive people. We're sure you are sincere in everything you're saying.
Finally, you write that the fact that we "would not have fought a war against Nazism" undermines our "ability to take the moral high ground on issues pertaining to tyranny."
We are much more interested in fighting tyranny in all its forms than in aspiring to some "moral high ground".
The essence of Nazism was the belief that violence, fear, hatred of enemies, and deception, could be harnessed as tools of elite aggrandisement and enrichment. One of the terrible ironies of the West's violent destruction of the Nazi killing machine is that violence thereby became even more deeply entrenched in our own economic and political systems. To paraphrase Nietzsche, when we looked into the abyss of mass violence and total war, the abyss looked into us.
Generally speaking, real solutions to problems rooted in greed, hatred and irrationality can only be found in compassion, restraint and reason.
Part 2 will follow shortly.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Importantly, please copy your emails to Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent:
And to the letters editor:
Category: Alerts 2003
- Created on 04 December 2004
- 14 November 2010
We received a second response from Johann Hari on November 29:
Dear David and David,
I've been moping in bed with 'flu all day and just had an amicable row with a friend who read your alert and basically agrees with it. Some interesting points emerged from our discussion of it (and some e-mail exchanges with some of your readers), so I thought I'd add them to my previous e-mail if I may.
I realise that my answer to your question about when US foreign policy towards the Middle East changed was somewhat cursory. I think there is a growing realisation among US elites since September 11th that the policy of propping up tyrannies in the Middle East has led to disaster for America.
Of course they are not suddenly worried about Arab lives in some purely altruistic sense. Rather, they have developed a new sense of enlightened self-interest, where America will only become safe if the Middle East undergoes a bourgeois democratic revolution and Arab grievances can find outlets within democratic processes.
Read Bush's Guild Hall speech: it is a fairly candid statement of that, and as close to a retraction and apology for US foreign policy in the region for the last forty years. (Of course, like you, I would like to see the criminals who enacted that policy - Henry Kissinger at the forefront, but also Bush's own father and countless others - tried. We should keep arguing for that, forlorn though it may be; but that should not blind us to other positive developments). Of course there is a danger in taking what politicians with an abysmal history of lying say at face value. We will have ample opportunity to see if Bush is this time telling the truth.
On a separate but related point, you say: "what 'we' need [if we are to justify any war on humanitarian grounds] is a credible track record of compassionate, humanitarian intervention." I believe that we are developing that track-record. The Kosovo war - which you see as part of a devilish plot - would be my first example, but since that is contentious, let us leave it aside. Let's look at Sierra Leone. Noam Chomsky admitted to me at a New Statesman lunch that this was 'probably' a sincere humanitarian intervention, although he did add, "that's probably because I haven't looked into it too closely." He hasn't looked into it, I fear, because he suspects that if he did it would displease his fan base and undermine his thesis that Western powers invariably (as opposed to often, as I believe) act in line with a rapacious imperialism.
Sierra Leone was - to summarise crudely, albeit in a way that nobody to my knowledge disputes - a desperately poor country whose democracy was about to be liquidated by a gang of hand-chopping thugs. Only intervention from the British army prevented it descending into civil war, with all the attendant human miseries. Britain had no strategic or financial interest in that devastated country. Blair did it for the same reason he has dedicated so much energy to the Northern Ireland peace process: because he believed it would make the world a better place. Is this not humanitarian intervention? And if you concede that Blair can act in a humanitarian way at least once, doesn't that undermine your position that his government is obviously reprehensible in everything it does? Does it undermine your hero Harold Pinter, who bizarrely claimed on the Today programme that Blair bombed Kosovo because "he enjoys killing children"?
Onto another point. You ask why I did not agitate for the ending of sanctions, a course that the Iraqi people clearly wanted throughout the nineties: a proper and important question. As I explained in my earlier message, the primary responsibility for the deaths caused by sanctions lie with Saddam Hussein, because the same sanctions did not cause anything like the same number of deaths in Northern Iraq, where Saddam's power (mercifully) did not extend. However, my position was simple, and it was firmly opposed to sanctions. Sanctions should not have been implemented, because the whole policy of 'containment' - locking a dictator in a box along with the Iraqi people, where he could merrily butcher them - was heinous.
Your alternative to sanctions was to leave Saddam in place and hope that the battered, tyrannised Iraqi people could somehow find a way to break the lock of a modern totalitarian state and overthrow him. I believe that this course would have resulted in far, far more deaths than the current invasion: look at how many people were slaughtered in just one uprising, in 1991. My alternative to sanctions was regime change. We both wanted them to end; it was only our tactics that differed.
There is a wider disagreement between us concerning the attitude towards power that we on the left should adopt. You seem to believe - I hope this is a fair précis - that the holders of power in our world, even in advanced democracies (which are mere husks of democracy in your telling), are depraved perpetrators of genocide and mass murder, utterly contemptible and beyond redemption. The only possible course decent people can adopt is to smash this power structure and begin the long course of building a new one. To engage those with power, to try to make it more decent and to coax it to do good things, is, at best, a fool's errand, and at worst an attempt to humanise a monster. The only decent thing that can be done with power as it is currently constituted is to oppose it entirely and to agitate for a better world.
I have wrestled with this view. I do not want to spend my life putting a humanitarian veneer on horrendous policies, and there are days - usually when Donald Rumsfeld gives a press conference - when I wonder if that is what I am doing, and whether you are right. That is why I welcome your alert, even though it obviously isn't pleasant to be harshly criticised: anybody with a conscience should have to examine their relationship to power, and justify themselves.
My own attitude to power is that we should formulate our political philosophies independently, and support governments when they accord with them and oppose them when they do not. I hope you will accept that this is what I try to do. Whether or not George Bush was in favour of overthrowing Saddam, I was on the side of the Iraqi people, backing the end of his tyranny. Whether or not Tony Blair is in favour of gay rights (mercifully, he is), rights for refugees (appallingly, he most certainly is not), I hold to my independent position. Whatever Bush and Blair say, I will support (in whatever pathetically small way I can through my column) the people of Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea and (yes) Uzbekistan against the tyrants who repress them. If Bush and Blair act to end their tyrannies - which would require a very substantial reversal when it comes to Uzbekistan - then I will welcome them.
I can see why you are tempted to see any support for the recent war as cow-towing to power. Bluntly, in the case of many journalists, it was. Establishment arse-lickers like William Rees-Mogg (who wrote a preposterous piece in the Times the other day about how America "always" supports democracies) like the Downing Street invites and the places on corporate boards. But can't you see there is a substantial difference between the Rees-Moggs, who suddenly discover a concern for Iraqi democracy when it is convenient, and people like Nick Cohen and Christopher Hitchens, who were in favour of the overthrow of Saddam long before any powerful person thought it prudent, or for that matter David Aaronovitch, who was advocating an invasion when the idea seemed preposterous years ago?
Our positions must be independent of those with power. I fear that those of your heroes John Pilger and Noam Chomsky is determined by power just as simplistically as the likes of Rees-Mogg, because where he will always snap into line with the US government, they will oppose it, not matter what it does. So Pilger heroically backed the East Timorese liberation movement for decades, but then then, when the US very belatedly changed its policy and Pilger's East Timorese friends thanked the heavens, he opposed that too! (I recommend Francis Wheen's excellent forthcoming book for documentation of all this, along with clear accounts of Noam Chomsky's horrifying blindness to the genocide in Cambodia).
So: no Rees-Mogg line in defence of power, no Pilger line opposed to it; independent principles, which we hold those with power to. Sierra Leone is evidence that great good can happen within existing power-structures. If your apparent position - oppose all that the existing power structure does - had been adopted in Sierra Leone, we would have been lobbying in effect for the liquidation of a very fragile African democracy and its descent into becoming a failed state, with many horrific deaths. That is not a political position I am comfortable with. If we wait for the existing power-structures of the world to be torn down before we advocate any positive action, there will be an awful lot more countries like Sierra Leone ripped to shreds before we're done.
Anyway, I have written far more than I intended, and my tissues have turned into a soggy mush that cannot absorb any more mucus no matter how hard I try, so I'll leave this here until your response, if that's okay.
Hope you are well,
Even by the standard of the responses we've received from mainstream journalists your arguments are remarkable.
You write, accurately, that your answer to the question of when US foreign policy in the Middle East became guided by "enlightened self-interest" was "somewhat cursory". You explain: "I think there is a growing realisation among US elites since September 11th that the policy of propping up tyrannies in the Middle East has led to disaster for America."
The oil companies, arms manufacturers, indeed much of corporate America, might have something to say about that. No matter, let's take a look at your evidence.
But what is so remarkable is that there is none - your non-cursory evidence supporting this extraordinary claim consists, quite literally, of a speech by George Bush at the Guild Hall!
You do add that on "a separate but related point" there is a growing track-record of humanitarian intervention, as indicated by the actions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone (we'll return to these, and your gross misrepresentation of Chomsky's position below). But as these took place in 1999 and 2000, respectively, they of course cannot support your non-cursory explanation relating to September 11, which thus continues to rely on one speech by Bush.
Your comment on how America understands it "will only become safe if the Middle East undergoes a bourgeois democratic revolution" reeks of the unthinking arrogance of so many media commentators - of course the United States should be supported in asserting its moral and legal right to promote "democratic revolution" wherever it pleases. Let the world's lone superpower overturn whichever government it chooses through mass violence out of - what else? - "self-defence".
The US writer Edward Herman has been studying US foreign policy in great depth and with great intelligence for decades. We thought it would be interesting to see what he made of your argument. This was his response:
"[Hari's] suggestion that US policy in the Middle East is geared to making America 'safe' is comical - did he swallow the notion that Saddam, with or without WMD, could pose a real security threat to the US? If safety is not the criterion, how about domination of oil and control and projection of power so openly announced by the Bush team in 1992 and later? Also the protection of Sharon and ethnic cleansing in Palestine. I like his phrase 'only if Arab grievances can find outlets within democratic processes'! No suggestion that they might have grievances from US supported massive ethnic cleansing in favor of settlers, which is so god-damned obvious as a grievance and crime." (Email to Media Lens, November 29, 2003)
"Of course there is a danger in taking what politicians with an abysmal history of lying say at face value. We will have ample opportunity to see if Bush is this time telling the truth."
There is indeed a danger - the tens of thousands of Iraqi dead from the latest war you supported will +not+ have ample opportunity to see if Bush is telling the truth. The idea that, based on zero evidence, we should sit back while Bush wages war around the world and see if "this time", at last, great power is finally telling the truth is too absurd even to discuss.
While you are waiting and seeing, even establishment foreign policy analysts like Samuel Huntington are warning that "America's imperial ambition" is a threat to everyone, the United States included (Foreign Affairs, March-April, 1999). Robert Jervis also writes in Foreign Affairs of how the Bush administration has one aim: "unilateral world domination through absolute military superiority". (Foreign Affairs, July-August, 2001)
You say that the war on Iraq is part of a new humanitarian trend rooted in Bush's recognition that "we should not tolerate oppression for the sake of stability". And yet UN resolution 1441, used by the Bush administration to prepare the way for war, was rammed through the Security Council by senior US officials whose job was "to urge leaders to vote with the United States on Iraq or risk 'paying a heavy price'." (Dafna Linzer, Boston Globe, February 24, 2003), with the fate of Yemen after the 1991 Gulf War doubtless on everyone's minds. Noam Chomsky makes the obvious point:
"The support is in fact submission; signers understood what the alternative would be. In systems of law that are intended to be taken seriously, coerced acquiescence is invalid. In international affairs, however, it is honoured as diplomacy." (Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, Routledge, 2003, p.36)
You assert that we see the Kosovo war "as part of a devilish plot". This, again, hardly merits comment.
"Noam Chomsky admitted to me at a New Statesman lunch that this was 'probably' a sincere humanitarian intervention, although he did add, 'that's probably because I haven't looked into it too closely.' He hasn't looked into it, I fear, because he suspects that if he did it would displease his fan base and undermine his thesis that Western powers invariably (as opposed to often, as I believe) act in line with a rapacious imperialism."
Your first sentence struck us as deeply implausible. Chomsky has repeatedly stated that he believes it is quite possible that there has not in all history been an example of humanitarian state intervention. We suspected he was trying to make a typically honest point to you about the need to actually study issues rather than rushing to judgement. We asked Chomsky to clarify his position. This was his response:
"I have no idea whether I met him at the lunch, but I certainly didn't 'admit' anything of the sort. Rather, I stated that Britain in Sierra Leone might be an authentic example of humanitarian intervention. And there was no 'although'; another flight of the Hari imagination. Rather, I stated that I hadn't looked into it more closely. The reasons are not his silly inventions -- which tell us a lot about him; more below -- but rather a moral truism, that I have repeated to the point of boredom, and did again at the lunch: a person is responsible for the anticipated consequences of his or her own acts, and if capable if comprehending moral truisms, will therefore focus finite energy and attention on them -- +focus+, which does not mean, as the subservient intellectuals like to pretend, keep to them exclusively.
"Of course, I would not expect him to understand the moral truism that I repeated, once again, at the lunch. Nor will he ever understand it, I suppose, any more than it could be understood by his Stalinist counterparts. As anyone familiar with Russia in the old days knows, the loyal commissars could never understand -- or at least pretended not to understand -- why Soviet dissidents concentrated on the actions of Russia, not someone else's. And their Western mimics, like Hari, cannot understand why I concentrate on actions of the US, and he should concentrate on actions of England. Of course, I don't suggest a comparison. He is far more depraved than his models, who could at least plead fear for their conformity to power, and who had far less responsibility for the actions of their states than he and I have -- REPEAT, FAR LESS for obvious reasons, a deeply significant fact, but another one that he will never comprehend, I presume.
"Those who do understand moral truisms and elementary facts will understand at once why, in a life with finite time and energy, I wouldn't undertake the kind of research project about Britain in Sierra Leone than I do about issues for which I share responsibility, which I can influence, and which therefore should take priority. That would be true even if I had not again explained the obvious, in monosyllables, at that lunch. The fact that he would resort to these idiotic fabrications tells us a lot about him; even more, perhaps, than his apparent utter inability to comprehend moral truisms." (Email to Media Lens, November 29, 2003)
Your response to these comments on your website is revealing:
"I think that rant speaks for itself really." (www.johannhari.com)
Your suggestion that someone as honest and rational as Chomsky would not look too closely at an issue because it might "displease his fan base and undermine his thesis" reveals your ignorance of his work. The whole point about Chomsky is that he focuses on precisely the presumed strongest examples testing his arguments - such as the idea that Watergate demonstrates the independence of the press, that the Kosovo intervention indicates a "new humanitarianism" - to show the true scale of state-corporate lying and deceit.
You say of Britain's intervention in Sierra Leone: "Blair did it for the same reason he has dedicated so much energy to the Northern Ireland peace process: because he believed it would make the world a better place. Is this not humanitarian intervention?"
Again, naturally, no evidence is required - it's enough just to say it. British historian Mark Curtis has unearthed remarkable evidence in released government documents that reveal the British motivation for interventions in the Third World since 1945. His work - in particular The Ambiguities Of Power (Zed Books, 1995) and Web Of Deceit (Vintage, 2003) - are must-read books. We asked Curtis what he thought of your analysis of the interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone:
"I have looked through the formerly secret government files on numerous past British military interventions and if there is one thing that is clear, it is that the publicly stated reasons for intervention are never the real ones. In the case of British Guiana in 1953, for example, when British troops were sent to remove a democratically-elected government, the government told Parliament it was intervening to stop the Guianan government acting as a stooge of Moscow; the files reveal, however, that British planners were really concerned about the Guianan government threatening British business interests. In Malaya in the 1950s, the official reasons for intervention - repeated for a decade - were to prevent "communism terrorism"; the files, however, show that planners saw the war primarily as "in defence of [the] rubber industry", which British business interests effectively controlled. These are just two examples.
"Coming closer to the Blair government and Sierra Leone, it should be remembered that the intervention took place only a few months after the bombing of Yugoslavia. This was again trumpeted - with the support of the entire mainstream media - as an humanitarian intervention to save the lives of thousands of Kosovans. Yet the record makes clear that it was following the NATO bombing that the worst humanitarian catastrophe ensued; before, human rights abuses were horrific, certainly, but on far lower scale than the Foreign Office was putting out, and indeed in the context of a civil war between the Belgrade government and the KLA. Only when the NATO bombing started were huge numbers of people pushed over the borders.
"This is not to excuse Milosevic for gross horrors; it is simply to state the facts. And indeed, Blair and Clinton stated quite openly what is a more plausible reason for their bombing than humanitarian intervention - the "credibility" of NATO. That, around the 50th anniversary of NATO, the US and UK could not let Milosevic undermine the Alliance. I also think other factors were at play - such as forcing Milosevic's removal at a time when NATO and the EU wanted to expand eastwards.
"On Sierra Leone, the safest thing to say is that when we see the declassified files in 30 years, I suggest we will see a different story than that spun by Blair's propagandists and their allies in the mainstream media. If we look for plausible reasons for the intervention, the immediate one is the restoration of a pro-British government, which had of course been overthrown. This followed, it should be remembered, the coup in neighbouring Gambia, which also overthrew a very long-standing British ally, virtually a puppet. The major country in the region is of course Nigeria. I am just looking through the declassified files on the civil war there in the late 1960s - they reveal very clearly the UK's support for the Lagos government and the primacy of British oil interests, which dictated British then, and we can assume also now.
"This is the UK's prize in the region, along with the stability needing to be provided by pro-British governments. This is also in the context of ongoing rivalry between France and the UK in the region. I think London was worried that the instability/conflict in the area, based as they see it around Liberia, was threatening pro-British governments, the wider British role in the region and possibly Nigeria itself.
"I also think an additional factor, related to this, was the need to demonstrate British power in this region - to show that it was still capable of defending its interests through military force, a similar issue, indeed, to 'credibility'. This is also similar to some of France's concerns in the region. This is not to say that the intervention has not had some benign effects - the opposition RUF were clearly entirely gruesome. But to argue that humanitarian reasons were primary in deciding Whitehall to act is another thing altogether.
"Nigeria is a good example of how propping up favoured governments in the region works against West Africans interests - British oil companies and Nigerian elites have been bleeding ordinary Nigerians dry for decades. They have seen hardly any of the benefits of oil revenues and many have become poorer. We should not expect a pro-British government in Sierra Leone to deliver benefits for people over the long term; this would simply be defying history.
"It is typical that the mainstream media takes at face value, and accepts, the governments arguments for intervention in Sierra Leone, as elsewhere - then, discussion merely takes place around whether the government is promoting the right tactics to achieve its noble purposes, based on its own propaganda. In the light of what is publicly known about the government's propaganda strategy on Iraq, this role of the media is really remarkable, a tremendous elite achievement in democratic society." (Email to Media Lens, December 2, 2003)
It's important that we add Chomsky's response to your reference to his "horrifying blindness to the genocide in Cambodia". We can only imagine that you have not read Chomsky and Herman's work on the issue - particularly The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volumes 1 and 2 (South End Press, 1979), or the responses to it, all of which have been comprehensively rebutted.
"Very interesting. Neither he [Hari], nor anyone, has found even a misplaced comma in what Ed [Herman] and I wrote about Cambodia (I wrote nothing relevant of my own), which of course bitterly and prominently condemned the atrocities, suggested that US intelligence was probably the most reliable source (as proved to be the case in retrospect; we were probably the only ones to cite them), but argued that one should try to tell the truth about the horrifying atrocities, not concoct lies of a kind that would have made Stalin and Goebbels gasp -- which is no exaggeration.
"As noted, not the slightest error, or hint of an error, has ever been unearthed. Ask Hari to produce one, instead of just following his crowd in the obligatory tantrum. The tantrum is extremely revealing. We were challenging the right to lie in service to the holy state, and that is intolerable. Hence the reactions in which Hari joins, possibly in total ignorance in his case, just repeating what he's heard at some dinner party.
"There is another point, which takes the intelligence of a ten-year old to understand, so I rarely bother with it. In our two volumes, Ed and I were comparing the reaction to atrocities, depending on the source and the way domestic power wanted them to be perceived. Our two prime examples were East Timor and Cambodia, a very good test case as anyone familiar with the facts is aware, and as we showed in detail. We described the atrocities as comparable in scale and character, as was true (bending over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt to the US-UK and their educated classes).
"The prime difference was that in one case the US-UK bore direct responsibility, and were in fact carrying forward their decisive support for the crimes at the very moment we wrote, while in the other case the crimes could be blamed on an official enemy and could also be exploited to justify further US-UK crimes (as they were, as we also have documented). The difference in treatment was dramatic. Massive lying in both cases, but in opposite directions, going well beyond what we predicted.
"The revelation of the subservience of intellectuals to power in the case of Cambodia has elicited a huge mountain of tantrums (to which Hari adds his toothpick) -- though, as noted, not a particle of evidence or argument to support any of the hysterical charges, just more lying (as we've also reviewed). The chapter on East Timor has almost never been mentioned, though by any moral standards it was vastly more important, since what we revealed there were ongoing crimes, for which we share enormous responsibility. You might check, for example, to see what Hari wrote about the fact that his hands are dripping with blood of Timorese, right up to late September 1999, and what he has written about the comparable crimes of the official enemy. That would tell us a lot about whether the comparison to Stalinist commissars is fair -- to the commissars.
"Here's the point of logic, admittedly beyond the capacity of deeply indoctrinated Western intellectuals to understand. We described the two crimes as comparable. Therefore, those who claim (like Hari) that we were downplaying the crimes of Pol Pot are themselves downplaying their own crimes in East Timor. That's elementary logic. And the conclusion is also obvious. To deny one's own ongoing crimes is vastly more disgraceful than denying the crimes of someone else. Hence Hari is, once again, declaring that he falls well below the Stalinist commissars he seems determined to mimic. Elementary logic suffices to demonstrate that. Note that this would be true even if we were downplaying Pol Pot's crimes, which is a pure lie, as he would discover if he sought to try the experiment of literacy instead of repeating gossip he's heard somewhere."
Johann, it is reasonable for you to imagine that you can repeat fact-free establishment propaganda - including the usual smears - in the Independent and come away with your credibility intact. It is a big mistake, however, to expect the same outcome in media where evidence, consistency and rationality are deemed important.
David Edwards and David Cromwell
Hari has since responded a third time. We will not be responding to this email. It is available at the Media Lens website www.Media Lens.org under 'latest', and also at www.johannhari.com
Importantly, please copy your emails to Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent:
And to the letters editor:
Category: Alerts 2003
- Created on 21 November 2003
- 14 November 2010
Exposing The Final Lie Of The War On Iraq
No links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, no weapons of mass destruction, and now no question that the invasion of Iraq has led to a massive increase in the threat of terrorism, as the series of bombings across Iraq, in Riyadh (May 12 and November 9), Casablanca (May 16), Jakarta (August 5) and Istanbul (November 17 and 20) have made horrifically clear.
Last night, ITN's royal correspondent, Tom Bradby, asked the establishment media's favourite question of protestors:
"Is this the day to be demonstrating against the leaders of the free world?" (ITN, News At Ten, November 20, 2003)
During the war, reporters asked:
"Is there any point in protesting now that the democratic decision has been taken to go to war?"
The media have conveniently forgotten a key lesson from the Vietnam War. Then, mass protests at the height of the war persuaded Pentagon officials to urge an end to the slaughter because the alternative, escalation, risked "provoking a domestic crisis of unprecedented proportions". (The Pentagon Papers, Vol. IV, p. 564, Senator Gravel Edition, Beacon, 1972)
The media have also forgotten the very essence of the Nuremberg charter, which is that individuals have international duties which transcend national obligations of obedience to the state.
Bradby asked protestors why they were carrying placards describing Bush as the world's number one terrorist when "the real terrorists" had just killed and injured hundreds in Istanbul.
It might seem unfair to pick on a royal correspondent. But then it might seem unfair that a royal correspondent should be picked to report on a serious and important peace movement.
Elinor Goodman of Channel 4 News declared that the latest bombings in Istanbul had, "ironically", made Bush and Blair's task easier at yesterday's press conference - they could point to the bombings as an example of exactly what they were fighting against.
Goodman made it sound as though this view was based on something more than her personal opinion. In fact the targeting of British interests in Istanbul should be the final nail in the coffin of Bush and Blair's credibility - the last justification for the war on Iraq has been exposed as a lie. The fact that one-quarter of London's entire police force was required to protect Bush, at a cost of £5 million, tells its own story. Is this what 'success' in responding to the "serious and current threat" of terror looks like?
Remarkably, in all the extensive coverage, almost no journalist managed to provide credible evidence indicating the central point about yesterday's events - that intelligence agencies and experts on security issues predicted +exactly+ this outcome from a US-UK attack on Iraq.
In early 2003, a high-level task force of the Council on Foreign Relations warned of likely terrorist attacks far worse than September 11, including possible use of weapons of mass destruction within the US, dangers that became "more urgent by the prospect of the US going to war with Iraq". (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, 'Confronting The Empire', ZNet, February 1, 2003)
This awareness created deep unease within the intelligence community. In a letter to the Guardian, Lt Cdr Martin Packard (rtd), a former Nato intelligence adviser, wrote:
"In the case of Iraq the urgency for military action appears to arise not because of a gathering Iraqi threat but because of political and economic considerations in America. Scepticism over US-UK spin on Iraq is validated by the number of senior military officers and former intelligence analysts who remain unconvinced that war at this stage is justified. Many of them believe that the threat to UK interests and to regional stability will be increased by a US-led attack on Iraq rather than diminished." (The Guardian, Letters, February 8, 2003)
According to Douglas Hurd, former Conservative Foreign Secretary, war on Iraq ran "the risk of turning the Middle East into an inexhaustible recruiting ground for anti-western terrorism". (Financial Times, January 3, 2003)
Shortly before the war, Saudi Arabia's former oil minister, Sheikh Yamani, said:
"What they are going to do if they embark on this is to produce +real+ terrorists. I think sometime in the future Osama bin Laden will look like an angel compared to the future terrorists." (Newsnight, January 30, 2003)
The Bush/Blair strategy, Noam Chomsky noted, "has caused shudders not only among the usual victims, and in 'old Europe,' [but] right at the heart of the US foreign policy elite, who recognise that 'commitment of the US to active military confrontation for decisive national advantage will leave the world more dangerous and the US less secure'." (Chomsky, op., cit) There are, Chomsky pointed out, no precedents whatever for this kind of establishment opposition.
Anatol Lieven, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, wrote that the Bush administration is pursuing "the classic modern strategy of an endangered right-wing oligarchy, which is to divert mass discontent into nationalism," inspired by fear of lethal threats. Lieven warned that America "has become a menace to itself and to mankind".
Citing none of the above sources, today's Guardian leader merely asks, lamely:
"Who is this enemy that seems both invisible and ubiquitous? What causes this pitiless hatred? To say simply they 'hate freedom' is no explanation. Do Mr Bush and Mr Blair really believe that this is a war that can definitively be one? And are their policies in the Middle East and beyond steadily making matters worse, not better?" ('Reaping the whirlwind', The Guardian, November 21, 2003)
The Independent's editors actually praise Blair:
"For once Tony Blair stepped up to the microphone after a shocking event and failed to strike the right note. He paid his respects to those killed and injured in Istanbul and their families with suitable sympathy, and he expressed with clarity the sense of outrage that most people must feel." ('The real nature of the threat from these terrorists and their twisted ideology', The Independent, November 21, 2003)
The Naivety Of Realpolitik
"Ha ha ha to the pacifists", wrote Christopher Hitchens in November 2001 after the fall of Kabul. (The Guardian, November 14, 2001) But in January 2002, Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas of the Royal Institute of International Affairs said of this first phase of the "war on terror":
"Taking out the terrorist training camps might appear as if it's a major step towards defeating international terrorism... But if anyone thinks that this temporary degradation of al-Qaeda's capabilities through the elimination of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan somehow or other reduces the risks of terrorist attacks in the future, I'm afraid they're wrong. Because terrorist training camps don't have to be in Afghanistan, they can be anywhere. And indeed the temptation now for al-Qaeda will be to site the training of its operatives in Western Europe, Canada and even in the United States. And we have seen that they are capable of doing that, because the attack on September 11, if anything, seems to have been planned in Hamburg, not in Afghanistan." (Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas, Royal Institute of International Affairs, Jonathan Dimbleby, ITV, January 27, 2002)
Nicholas Kristof notes in this month's New York Times that "the big winner" of US security strategy in Afghanistan "was the Taliban, which is now mounting a resurgence". In the two years since the war, opium production in the demolished country has soared 19-fold and become the major source of the world's heroin. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, writes in a "grim new report" on Afghanistan:
"There is a palpable risk that Afghanistan will again turn into a failed state, this time in the hands of drug cartels and narco-terrorists." (Nicholas D. Kristof, 'A Scary Afghan Road', The New York Times, November 15, 2003)
Paul Barker, the Afghan country director for CARE International, says:
"Things are definitely deteriorating on the security front."
Nancy Lindborg of Mercy Corps, the American aid group, says: "We've operated in Afghanistan for about 15 years and we've never had the insecurity that we have now."
Writers like Hitchens, Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch and Johann Hari have consistently mocked the naivety and sentimentality of anti-war protestors. But nothing could be more naïve than attempting to fight suicide bombers with tanks and planes, than extinguishing fire with petrol, than fuelling hatred born of injustice with yet more hatred and injustice.
When IRA bombs exploded in London, the RAF was not sent to bomb the source of their finances in the United States. In dealing with the Mafia, no one would suggest sending B-52s over Sicily. The sane course, as Chomsky notes, would be "to consider realistically the background concerns and grievances, and try to remedy them, while at the same time following the rule of law to punish criminals". (Chomsky, 9-11, Seven Stories Press, 2001)
Earlier this year we cited Geshe Lhundub Sopa's words on the issue of war and peace. The words bear repeating:
"The consequences of activities such as destruction and killing motivated by a mind disturbed by greed and hatred are like light rays, in that they will spread everywhere, bringing war and suffering."
We can be absolutely certain that this will continue to be our reality until we rid ourselves of the greed and hatred that dominate our political and economic systems, and the policies they generate.
Write to the heads of BBC news and ITN expressing your views:
Ask them why they failed to mention that high-level security sources warned that an attack on Iraq would generate increased terrorism around the world. Why did they not suggest that the latest terror attacks expose the final lie of the war on Iraq - that it would +reduce+ the threat of terrorism?