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Media Complicity In War Crimes


"Stupidity, outrage, vanity, cruelty, iniquity, bad faith, falsehood – we fail to see the whole array when it is facing in the same direction as we." (Jean Rostand)

Nuremberg – Article Six

On February 13, The World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI), an international peoples’ initiative, declared much of the Western media guilty of deception and incitement to violence in its reporting on Iraq. The tribunal, meeting in Rome, made its pronouncement after taking testimony from independent journalists, media professors, activists, and a member of the European Parliament.

The panel of WTI judges noted that the United States and British governments had deliberately impeded the work of journalists and knowingly spread lies and disinformation. But the panel also accused the Western corporate media of filtering and suppressing the truth. The tribunal described how journalists had violated article six of the Nuremberg Tribunal which states:

"Leaders, organisers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes (crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity) are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such a plan." (‘Media Held Guilty of Deception,’ Inter Press Service, February 14, 2005)

The media’s complicity in war crimes continues unabated, of course. Thus, in covering the results from Iraq’s January 30 election, Peter Marshall announced grandly on the BBC’s Newsnight television programme:

"So, democracy has come to Iraq." (BBC2, Newsnight, February 14, 2005)

Instantly revealing the usual bias in mainstream reporting, Marshall added:

"Things could be worse… the rule by mullahs, a Shia theocracy, looks less likely now with the Shia list’s failure to reach 50 per cent of the vote."

He meant things could be worse for Western interests, of course – the real concern. John Pilger has noted how in the media, "one of the most potent assumptions is that the world should be seen in terms of its usefulness to the West, not humanity. This leads journalists to make a distinction between people who matter and people who don’t matter." (The Progressive Interview, by David Barsamian, November 2002, http://www.progressive.org/nov02/intv1102.html)

Put crudely, the impoverished people of Iraq do not matter to the top 5% of the British population who own 45% of the nation’s wealth and who run the country.

Elite journalists are very much members of this 5% club. And so they take for granted that ‘democracy’ for Iraqis means the freedom to make ‘reasonable’ choices as defined by the people who matter. To do otherwise is not to express democratic freedom of choice, it is to invite bombing and invasion.

The disregard for the people of Iraq – as clearly evidenced by long-standing Western support for Saddam Hussein, and by the genocidal sanctions imposed from 1990 to 2003 – makes the sudden determination to bring them ‘liberty’ and ‘democracy’ very hard to swallow.

Guys With Turbans

How do we know democracy has come? Newsnight’s Jon Leyne explained. He noted that the victorious Shia United Iraqi Alliance needed to choose a new Iraqi prime minister. There were two main candidates, "both religious Shiites, but also both acceptable to the Americans".

Acceptable, in other words, to a superpower army occupying the country and launching major military offensives against centres of population. Now that’s democracy!

Leyne continued: "We call them a religious Shiite alliance… but they’re very sensitive to what the Americans would feel if guys with turbans took over this country."

"Guys with turbans" sounds like a polite version of "towel heads". But Leyne had a point – everyone knows that Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Bush I, was stating obvious truth when he said in April 2003:

"What’s going to happen the first time we hold an election in Iraq and it turns out the radicals win? What do you do? We’re surely not going to let them take over." (Quoted, Walter Gibbs, ‘Scowcroft Urges Wide Role For the UN in Postwar Iraq,’ The New York Times, April 9, 2003)

Everyone knows it, but still every journalist under the sun describes the Iraqi election as "democratic" and "successful" – superb examples of what 20th century American foreign affairs advisor Reinhold Niebuhr called "necessary illusions" and "emotionally potent over-simplifications".

Leyne added that bringing the Sunnis into the political process might not stop the suicide bombers, but it could split the insurgency and drain popular support.

Nowhere in Newsnight’s review of the election results was there mention of whether the political process might help lessen the far worse violence committed against Iraqis by the US-UK "coalition". Last year, a report in The Lancet found that eighty-four per cent of an excess 100,000 Iraqi deaths since the invasion had been caused by the actions of "coalition" forces, with 95 per cent of those deaths due to air strikes and artillery. (http://www.jhsph.edu/Press_Room/Press_Releases/PR_2004/Burnham_Iraq.html)

Newsnight also failed to mention the prospects for alleviating the "coalition’s" criminal mismanagement of its already illegal occupation. A 2004 post-war nutritional assessment carried out by UNICEF in Baghdad found that acute child malnutrition or wasting had nearly doubled from four per cent in 2003, to almost eight per cent. UNICEF also report that the under-5 infant mortality for 2003 was 110,000 in occupied Iraq, 292,000 in occupied Afghanistan, as compared to 1,000 in the invading and occupying country Australia (countries that have populations of 25, 24 and 20 million, respectively). (Cited, Gideon Polya, ‘Non-reportage of US-linked infant mass mortality,’ December 23, 2004, http://newswire.indymedia.org/en/newswire/2004/12/816196.shtml)

As if reporting this catastrophe from some far-distant galaxy, the New York Times describes Iraq as "a country with high unemployment, mediocre public services and some of the highest crime rates in the world". (Adriana Lins de Albuquerque, Micahel O’Hanlon and Amy Unikwiicz, ‘The State of Iraq: An Update,’ The New York Times, February 21, 2005)

What Future Historians Will Say

In the autumn of 1999 US Vice President Dick Cheney – then CEO of Halliburton – said:

"Oil companies are expected to keep developing enough oil to offset oil depletion and also to meet new demand… So where is this oil going to come from?… The Middle East with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost is still where the prize ultimately lies." (Quoted, Ray McGovern, ‘We Need the Oil, Right? So What’s the Problem?’ Truthout, http://uruknet.info/?s1=2&p=9699&s2=16)

Reviewing these comments, Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, notes that it will be entirely obvious to future historians that oil was a key factor in the decision to invade Iraq:

"They will point to growing US dependence on foreign oil, the competition with China, India, and others for a world oil supply with terminal illness, and the fact that (as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has put it) Iraq ‘swims on a sea of oil.’ It will all seem so obvious as to provoke little more than a yawn." (Ibid)

But for now a very different version prevails as the ‘common sense’ view. To select at random, the Daily Telegraph notes:

"The success of the election does not absolve Britain and the United States from their duty as guardians of democracy. That role has historically been the destiny of the English-speaking peoples." (Leader, ‘The people of Iraq speak,’ The Daily Telegraph, February 14, 2005)

At a stroke Britain and the United States are transformed from illegal invaders on utterly false pretexts, the killers of more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians, into "guardians of democracy".

Alas, one group of people rejects the Telegraph’s view: the Iraqis themselves. A recent US-run poll of Baghdadis showed that one per cent agreed that the goal of the invasion was to bring democracy to Iraq. Five per cent thought the goal was to help Iraqis. The majority assumed the US wants to control Iraq’s resources and to use its new bases there to control the region.

Demonstrating insight far beyond the capacity of most Western journalists, Baghdadis felt that the US did want ‘democracy’, but not one that would allow Iraqis to run their lives "without US pressure and influence." (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, ‘Imperial Presidency,’ Canadian Dimension, January/February 2005, http://www.chomsky.info/articles/20041217.htm)

All of this will indeed one day be obvious. But not now, for we live in a time when the conforming influence of concentrated political and economic power has devastated the media’s capacity for honest and rational thought.

As long as journalists continue to submit to this oppression of the human spirit, they will continue to be complicit in the gravest imaginable crimes against humanity.

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Write to Peter MarshallEmail: [email protected]

Jon Leyne:Email: [email protected]

Newsnight editor, Peter BarronEmail: [email protected]

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