By John Pilger
On Christmas Eve, I dropped in on Brian Haw, whose hunched, pacing
figure was just visible through the freezing fog. For four and a half
years, Brian has camped in Parliament Square with a graphic display of
photographs that show the terror and suffering imposed on Iraqi children by
British policies. The effectiveness of his action was demonstrated last
April when the Blair government banned any expression of opposition within
a kilometre of Parliament. The High Court subsequently ruled that, because
his presence preceded the ban, Brian was an exception.
Day after day, night after night, season upon season, he remains a
beacon, illuminating the great crime of Iraq and the cowardice of the House
of Commons. As we talked, two women brought him a Christmas meal and mulled
wine. They thanked him, shook his hand and hurried on. He had never seen
them before. "That's typical of the public," he said. A man in a
pin-striped suit and tie emerged from the fog, carrying a small wreath. "I
intend to place this at the Cenotaph and read out the names of the dead in
Iraq," he said to Brian, who cautioned him: "You'll spend the night in
cells, mate." We watched him stride off and lay his wreath. His head bowed,
he appeared to be whispering. Thirty years ago, I watched dissidents do
something similar outside the walls of the Kremlin. As night had covered
him, he was lucky. On 7 December, Maya Evans, a vegan chef aged 25, was
convicted of breaching the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act by
reading aloud at the Cenotaph the names of 97 British soldiers killed in
Iraq. So serious was her crime that it required 14 policemen in two vans to
arrest her. She was fined and given a criminal record for the rest of her
life. Freedom is dying.
Eighty-year-old John Catt served with the RAF in the Second World
War. Last September, he was stopped by police in Brighton for wearing an
"offensive" T-shirt, which suggested that Bush and Blair be tried for war
crimes. He was arrested under the Terrorism Act and handcuffed, with his
arms held behind his back. The official record of the arrest says the
"purpose" of searching him was "terrorism" and the "grounds for
intervention" were "carrying placard and T-shirt with anti-Blair info"
(sic). He is awaiting trial.
Such cases compare with others that remain secret and beyond any
form of justice: those of the foreign nationals held at Belmarsh prison,
who have never been charged, let alone put on trial. They are held "on
suspicion". Some of the "evidence" against them, whatever it is, the Blair
government has now admitted, could have been extracted under torture at
Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. They are political prisoners in all but name.
They face the prospect of being spirited out of the country into the arms
of a regime which may torture them to death. Their isolated families,
including children, are quietly going mad. And for what? From 11 September
2001 to 30 September 2005, a total of 895 people were arrested in Britain
under the Terrorism Act. Only 23 have been convicted of offences covered by
the Act. As for real terrorists, the identity of two of the 7 July bombers,
including the suspected mastermind, was known to MI5, and nothing was done.
And Blair wants to give them more power. Having helped to devastate Iraq,
he is now killing freedom in his own country.
Consider parallel events in the United States. Last October, an
American surgeon, loved by his patients, was punished with 22 years in
prison for founding a charity, Help the Needy, which helped children in
Iraq stricken by an economic and humanitarian blockade imposed by America
and Britain. In raising money for infants dying from diarrhoea, Dr Rafil
Dhafir broke a siege which, according to Unicef, had caused the deaths of
half a million under the age of five. The then Attorney-General of the
United States, John Ashcroft, called Dr Dhafir, a Muslim, a "terrorist", a
description mocked by even the judge in his politically-motivated, travesty
of a trial.
The Dhafir case is not extraordinary. In the same month, three US
Circuit Court judges ruled in favour of the Bush regime's "right" to
imprison an American citizen "indefinitely" without charging him with a
crime. This was the case of Joseph Padilla, a petty criminal who allegedly
visited Pakistan before he was arrested at Chicago airport three and a half
years ago. He was never charged and no evidence has ever been presented
against him. Now mired in legal complexity, the case puts George W Bush
above the law and outlaws the Bill of Rights. Indeed, on 14 November, the
US Senate effectively voted to ban habeas corpus by passing an amendment
that overturned a Supreme Court ruling allowing Guantanamo prisoners access
to a federal court. Thus, the touchstone of America's most celebrated
freedom was scrapped. Without habeas corpus, a government can simply lock
away its opponents and implement a dictatorship.
A related, insidious tyranny is being imposed across the world. For
all his troubles in Iraq, Bush has carried out the recommendations of a
Messianic conspiracy theory called the "Project for a New American
Century". Written by his ideological sponsors shortly before he came to
power, it foresaw his administration as a military dictatorship behind a
democratic façade: "the cavalry on a new American frontier" guided by a
blend of paranoia and megalomania. More than 700 American bases are now
placed strategically in compliant countries, notably at the gateways to the
sources of fossil fuels and encircling the Middle East and Central Asia.
"Pre-emptive" aggression is policy, including the use of nuclear weapons.
The chemical warfare industry has been reinvigorated. Missile treaties have
been torn up. Space has been militarised. Global warming has been embraced.
The powers of the president have never been greater. The judicial system
has been subverted, along with civil liberties. The former senior CIA
analyst Ray McGovern, who once prepared the White House daily briefing,
told me that the authors of the PNAC and those now occupying positions of
executive power used to be known in Washington as "the crazies". He said,
"We should now be very worried about fascism". In his epic acceptance of
the Nobel Prize in Literature on 7 December, Harold Pinter spoke of "a vast
tapestry of lies, upon which we feed". He asked why "the systematic
brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of
independent thought" of Stalinist Russia was well known in the west while
American state crimes were merely "superficially recorded, let alone
documented, let alone acknowledged".
A silence has reigned. Across the world, the extinction and
suffering of countless human beings can be attributed to rampant American
power, "but you wouldn't know it," said Pinter. "It never happened. Nothing
ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't
matter. It was of no interest." To its credit, the Guardian in London
published every word of Pinter's warning. To its shame, though
unsurprising, the state television broadcaster ignored it. All that
Newsnight flatulence about the arts, all that recycled preening for the
cameras at Booker prize-giving events, yet the BBC could not make room for
Britain's greatest living dramatist, so honoured, to tell the truth.
For the BBC, it simply never happened, just as the killing of half
a million children by America's medieval siege of Iraq during the 1990s
never happened, just as the Dhafir and Padilla trials and the Senate vote,
banning freedom, never happened. The political prisoners of Belmarsh barely
exist; and a big, brave posse of Metropolitan police never swept away Maya
Evans as she publicly grieved for British soldiers killed in the cause of
nothing, except rotten power.
Bereft of irony, but with a snigger, the BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce
introduced, as news, a Christmas propaganda film about Bush's dogs. That
happened. Now imagine Bruce reading the following: "Here is delayed news,
just in. From 1945 to 2005, the United States attempted to overthrow 50
governments, many of them democracies, and to crush 30 popular movements
fighting tyrannical regimes. In the process, 25 countries were bombed,
causing the loss of several million lives and the despair of millions
more." (Thanks to William Blum's Rogue State, Common Courage Press, 2005).
The icon of horror of Saddam Hussein's rule is a 1988 film of
petrified bodies in the Kurdish town of Halabja, killed in a chemical
weapons attack. The attack has been referred to a great deal by Bush and
Blair and the film shown a great deal by the BBC. At the time, as I know
from personal experience, the Foreign Office tried to cover up the crime at
Halabja. The Americans tried to blame it on Iran.
Even in an age of images, there are no images of the chemical
weapons attack on Fallujah in November 2004. This allowed the Americans to
deny it until they were caught out recently by investigators using the
internet. For the BBC, American atrocities simply do not happen. In 1999,
while filming in Washington and Iraq, I learned the true scale of bombing
in what the Americans and British then called Iraq's "no fly zones". During
the 18 months to 14 January, 1999, US aircraft flew 24,000 combat missions
over Iraq; almost every mission was bombing or strafing. "We're down to the
last outhouse," a US official protested. "There are still some things left
[to bomb], but not many." That was six years ago. In recent months, the air
assault on Iraq has multiplied; the effect on the ground cannot be
imagined. For the BBC it has not happened.
The black farce extends to those pseudo-humanitarians in the media
and elsewhere, who themselves have never seen the effects of cluster bombs
and air-burst shells, yet continue to invoke the crimes of Saddam to
justify the the nightmare in Iraq and to protect a quisling prime minister
who has sold out his country and made the world more dangerous.
Curiously, some of them insist on describing themselves as
"liberals" and "left of centre", even "anti-fascists". They want some
respectability, I suppose. This is understandable, given that the league
table of carnage of Saddam Hussein was overtaken long ago by that of their
hero in Downing Street, who will next support an attack on Iran.
This cannot change until we, in the west, look in the mirror and
confront the true aims and narcissism of the power applied in our name: its
extremes and terrorism. The traditional double-standard no longer works;
there are now millions like Brian Haw, Maya Evans, John Catt and the man in
the pin-striped suit, with his wreath. Looking in the mirror means
understanding that a violent and undemocratic order is being imposed by
those whose actions are little different from the actions of fascists. The
difference used to be distance. Now they are bringing it home.
John Pilger's new book, Freedom Next Time, will be published in June by Bantam Press