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The great charade: as the West prepares for an assault on Iraq, the 'war on terror' is a smokescreen created by the ultimate terrorist ... America itself
14 July 2002
It is 10 months since 11 September, and still the great charade plays on. Having appropriated our shocked response to that momentous day, the rulers of the world have since ground our language into a paean of cliches and lies about the 'war on terrorism' - when the most enduring menace, and source of terror, is them.
The fanatics who attacked America came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. No bombs fell on these American protectorates. Instead, more than 5,000 civilians have been bombed to death in stricken Afghanistan, the latest a wedding party of 40 people, mostly women and children. Not a single al-Qaeda leader of importance has been caught.
Following this 'stunning victory', hundreds of prisoners were shipped to an American concentration camp in Cuba, where they have been held against all the conventions of war and international law. No evidence of their alleged crimes has been produced, and the FBI confirms only one is a genuine suspect. In the United States, more than 1,000 people of Muslim background have 'disappeared'; none has been charged. Under the draconian Patriot Act, the FBI's new powers include the authority to go into libraries and ask who is reading what.
Meanwhile, the Blair government has made fools of the British Army by insisting they pursue warring tribesmen: exactly what squaddies in putties and pith helmets did over a century ago when Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, described Afghanistan as one of the 'pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world'.
There is no war on terrorism; it is the great game speeded up. The difference is the rampant nature of the superpower, ensuring infinite dangers for us all.
Having swept the Palestinians into the arms of the supreme terrorist Ariel Sharon, the Christian Right fundamentalists running the plutocracy in Washington, now replenish their arsenal in preparation for an attack on the 22 million suffering people of Iraq. Should anyone need reminding, Iraq is a nation held hostage to an American-led embargo every bit as barbaric as the dictatorship over which Iraqis have no control. Contrary to propaganda orchestrated from Washington and London, the coming attack has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein's 'weapons of mass destruction', if these exist at all. The reason is that America wants a more compliant thug to run the world's second greatest source of oil.
The drum-beaters rarely mention this truth, and the people of Iraq. Everyone is Saddam Hussein, the demon of demons. Four years ago, the Pentagon warned President Clinton that an all-out attack on Iraq might kill 'at least' 10,000 civilians: that, too, is unmentionable. In a sustained propaganda campaign to justify this outrage, journalists on both sides of the Atlantic have been used as channels, 'conduits', for a stream of rumours and lies. These have ranged from false claims about an Iraqi connection with the anthrax attacks in America to a discredited link between the leader of the 11 September hijacks and Iraqi intelligence. When the attack comes, these consorting journalists will share responsibility for the crime.
It was Tony Blair who served notice that imperialism's return journey to respectability was under way. Hark, the Christian gentleman-bomber's vision of a better world for 'the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of northern Africa to the slums of Gaza to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan.' Hark, his 'abiding' concern for the 'human rights of the suffering women of Afghanistan' as he colluded with Bush who, as the New York Times reported, 'demanded the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population'. Hark his compassion for the 'dispossessed' in the 'slums of Gaza', where Israeli gunships, manufactured with vital British parts, fire their missiles into crowded civilian areas.
As Frank Furedi reminds us in The New Ideology of Imperialism , it is not long ago 'that the moral claims of imperialism were seldom questioned in the West. Imperialism and the global expansion of the western powers were represented in unambiguously positive terms as a major contributor to human civilisation.' The quest went wrong when it was clear that fascism was imperialism, too, and the word vanished from academic discourse. In the best Stalinist tradition, imperialism no longer existed. Today, the preferred euphemism is 'civilisation'; or if an adjective is required, 'cultural'.
From Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, an ally of crypto-fascists, to impeccably liberal commentators, the new imperialists share a concept whose true meaning relies on a xenophobic or racist comparison with those who are deemed uncivilised, culturally inferior and might challenge the 'values' of the West. Watch the 'debates' on Newsnight. The question is how best 'we' can deal with the problem of 'them'.
For much of the western media, especially those commentators in thrall to and neutered by the supercult of America, the most salient truths remain taboos. Professor Richard Falk, of Cornell university, put it succinctly some years ago. Western foreign policy, he wrote, is propagated in the media 'through a self righteous, one-way moral/legal screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted violence'.
Perhaps the most important taboo is the longevity of the United States as both a terrorist state and a haven for terrorists. That the US is the only state on record to have been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism (in Nicaragua) and has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on governments to observe international law, is unmentionable.
'In the war against terrorism,' said Bush from his bunker following 11 September, 'we're going to hunt down these evil-doers wherever they are, no matter how long it takes.'
Strictly speaking, it should not take long, as more terrorists are given training and sanctuary in the United States than anywhere on earth. They include mass murderers, torturers, former and future tyrants and assorted international criminals. This is virtually unknown to the American public, thanks to the freest media on earth.
There is no terrorist sanctuary to compare with Florida, currently governed by the President's brother, Jeb Bush. In his book Rogue State , former senior State Department official Bill Blum describes a typical Florida trial of three anti-Castro terrorists, who hijacked a plane to Miami at knifepoint. 'Even though the kidnapped pilot was brought back from Cuba to testify against the men,' he wrote, 'the defence simply told the jurors the man was lying, and the jury deliberated for less than an hour before acquitting the defendants.'
General Jose Guillermo Garcia has lived comfortably in Florida since the 1990s. He was head of El Salvador's military during the 1980s when death squads with ties to the army murdered thousands of people. General Prosper Avril, the Haitian dictator, liked to display the bloodied victims of his torture on television. When he was overthrown, he was flown to Florida by the US Government. Thiounn Prasith, Pol Pot's henchman and apologist at the United Nations, lives in New York. General Mansour Moharari, who ran the Shah of Iran's notorious prisons, is wanted in Iran, but untroubled in the United States.
Al-Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan were kindergartens compared with the world's leading university of terrorism at Fort Benning in Georgia. Known until recently as the School of the Americas, it trained tyrants and some 60,000 Latin American special forces, paramilitaries and intelligence agents in the black arts of terrorism.
In 1993, the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador named the army officers who had committed the worst atrocities of the civil war; two-thirds of them had been trained at Fort Benning. In Chile, the school's graduates ran Pinochet's secret police and three principal concentration camps. In 1996, the US government was forced to release copies of the school's training manuals, which recommended blackmail, torture, execution and the arrest of witnesses' relatives.
In recent months, the Bush regime has torn up the Kyoto treaty, which would ease global warming, to which the United States is the greatest contributor. It has threatened the use of nuclear weapons in 'pre-emptive' strikes (a threat echoed by Defence Minister Geoffrey Hoon). It has tried to abort the birth of an international criminal court. It has further undermined the United Nations by blocking a UN investigation of the Israeli assault on a Palestinian refugee camp; and it has ordered the Palestinians to replace their elected leader with an American stooge. At summit conferences in Canada and Indonesia, Bush's people have blocked hundreds of millions of dollars going to the most deprived people on earth, those without clean water and electricity.
These facts will no doubt beckon the inane slur of 'anti-Americanism'. This is the imperial prerogative: the last refuge of those whose contortion of intellect and morality demands a loyalty oath. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, the Nazis silenced argument and criticism with 'anti German' slurs. Of course, the United States is not Germany; it is the home of some of history's greatest civil rights movements, such as the epic movement in the 1960s and 1970s.
I was in the US last week and glimpsed that other America, the one rarely seen among the media and Hollywood stereotypes, and what was clear was that it was stirring again. The other day, in an open letter to their compatriots and the world, almost 100 of America's most distinguished names in art, literature and education wrote this:
'Let it not be said that people in the United States did nothing when their government declared a war without limit and instituted stark new measures of repression. We believe that questioning, criticism and dissent must be valued and protected. Such rights are always contested and must be fought for. We, too, watched with shock the horrific events of September 11. But the mourning had barely begun when our leaders launched a spirit of revenge. The government now openly prepares to wage war on Iraq - a country that has no connection with September 11.
'We say this to the world. Too many times in history people have waited until it was too late to resist. We draw on the inspiration of those who fought slavery and all those other great causes of freedom that began with dissent. We call on all like-minded people around the world to join us.'
It is time we joined them.
· This is a revised extract from The New Rulers of the World , by John Pilger, published by Verso. Details available at http://www.johnpilger.com
Published by The Observer © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002