Media Lies

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Johann Hari on George Galloway

In a recent review of George Galloway's new book, Johann Hari has resorted to dissembling, distortion and extreme Zionist propaganda to produce an incoherent, childish rant. How come?

There could hardly be a more fair-minded commentator on Harry's Place than Johann Hari. Not to damn him with faint praise, then, I'll also add that he is one of the more intelligent supporters of the war - and, let's be honest, the pro-war camp desperately needs intelligent support. However, having read his venomous review of George Galloway's book I'm Not the Only One, I remember that everyone's political honesty has limits. Wish fulfillment abounds in most political analysis, and you could hardly find a more compelling example of this than in Johann's review. Having peremptorily dismissed 90% of the book's content as "unconvincing", "hazy Lennonist idealism" etc., Hari gets to the business of his review. Galloway is guilty of "Ba'athist propaganda", the extent of which is "staggering":

All those who, in the past, have denied that Galloway has mutated into a Saddamist will simply have to recant when they read this book. For example, Galloway actually refers to the Shi'ites Saddam murdered in the 1980s as "a fifth column" who actively undermined the Iraqi war effort in the interests of their countryís enemy." Nobody outside Saddamís squalid regime used this terminology; it was purely a justification for the mass slaughter of the dictator's enemies. It has been extensively documented that very few Iraqis supported Iran. They were killed because they opposed Saddam, not because they backed Iran, and Galloway must know it.

Now, before I proceed to deconstruct this breathtaking misrepresentation, I'll give you Galloway's quote in full:

"Iraqi society remained remarkably solid during the eight long years of war with Iran. The Shi'ite majority in Iraq proved that they were Arabs and Iraqis first and co-religionists of Khomeini second. But there was a fifth column, Shi'ite elements who actively undermined the Iraqi war effort in the interests of the country's enemy. As in all authoritarian regmes, this fifth column was ruthlessly annihilated wherever it was found." (Page 114).

So, before we're even off the ground, Hari's penultimate sentence is confirmed. Galloway is indeed aware that "very few Iraqis supported Iran" because he specifically says so. And what of the "fifth column"? Galloway nowhere denies that many Iraqis were killed simply for opposing the regime. In fact, he specifically says so:

"Saddam was a ruthless and cruel man who thought little about signing death warrants of even close comrades, and still less about ordering the merciless crushing of potential threats to his regime." (Page 126).

Hari is fully aware of this, since he later (mis)quotes precisely this passage. Nevertheless, in describing those in sympathy with Iran as a "fifth column", you might think Galloway was trying to impugn their motives or imply that they deserved what they got. In fact, Galloway both opposed Saddam's brutal assault on Iran, and supported an Iraqi overthrow of their regime:

"Saddam could have had no legitimate complaint if living by the sword - ruthlessly cutting down any and all opposition - he had died by the sword (or rope) at the hands of the Iraqis." (Page 103).

Galloway is accused, then, of saying something he hasn't said. He has not said that all the Shi'tes Saddam murdered in the 1980s were a fifth column - merely that such a faction existed. And he notes it was a minority. And, given his hostility to the regime and to its war with Iran, he cannot even be accused of opposing this "fifth column". But Hari has more:

How about the passage where Galloway defends Saddam's claim to Kuwait, describing the province as "clearly a part of the greater Iraqi whole stolen from the motherland by perfidious Albion"?

This is a blatant - and I must conclude intentional - misrepresentation. Here is Galloway's actual quote:

"For Iraqis of all political persuasions, Kuwait had been stolen from the motherland by perfidious Albion - Great Britain, the former colonial power." (Page 42).

He does not describe "the province" thus - he describes Iraqis as having that perception. Galloway could be wrong in this assessment, but that is immaterial since he did not say what Hari says he did. In fact, Hari seems to be the one in doubt of Kuwait's legitimacy as a nation, since he is the one who describes it as a "province". (Province: "A territory governed as an administrative or political unit of a country or empire." ) What can Johann mean?

Additionally, Galloway specifically rejects Saddam's right to invade Kuwait:

"In 1990 I was an enemy of the Iraqi regime and had, purposely, never visited the country. The sympathy I had for former colonies undoing the fake boundaries of colonialism could not support the naked aggression committed against Kuwait. That action copied elsewhere in the developing world would be a recipe for endless chaos and bloodshed." (Page 45).

You could make excuses for Hari. Perhaps he didn't see this passage, perhaps he read the book in a hurry, racing toward the salacious Saddamism he hoped to find. But such a conclusion is annihilated by Hari's next move:

For example, he says that in the First Gulf War, "I made my stand with Iraq." No you didn't, George. You stood with Saddam; conscript Iraqis - most in their teens - were being sent to be slaughtered in the name of an invasion they did not support.

That quote is the sentence immediately following the cited passage on Page 45. It is even in the same paragraph. Hari even uses the statement to imply that George Galloway "stood with Saddam" in his invasion of Kuwait while "conscript Iraqis" were being forced to die in an invasion they didn't support. I don't know about you, but I would think that - since it is logically impossible that George both supported and opposed the invasion of Kuwait - he was referring to his opposition to US planes pounding Iraqi cities and killing as many as 200,000 people. Hari continues:

Or how about Galloway's claim that Saddam's mass murder of democrats, Kurds and other anti-Saddam forces in 1991 was a "civil war" that "involved massive violence on both sides"? Again, only Ba'athists have ever used this language or narrative. The reality is very different. In 1991, a vicious tyranny exterminated its enemies. For Galloway to claim that two morally equivalent sides were simply fighting it out is staggering: he is equidistant between a poisoner and the medical crew waving an antidote.

I see no reason to revisit Galloway's position on the ouster of Saddam by Iraqis. Just scroll up if your mind has gone blank all of a sudden. But to describe the 1991 uprising as a "civil war" is no more apologetic than it is to describe the Nepalese uprising as a civil war, or the Kosovar uprising as a civil war. And did the Iraqi uprising not involve "massive violence on both sides"? Of course, describing facts is rarely neutral - context is all. But as I have already indicated, the context in which Galloway is writing is one in which he considers an Iraqi uprising just. Galloway nevertheless stands accused or "relativising" Saddam's crimes:

The most bizarre example of Galloway's moral relativism is when he says, "Saddam was a ruthless and cruel man who thought little of signing the death warrants of even close comrades. In this regard he was little different to the leaders of most regimes: we just don't know it in our own countries yet." As if Tony Blair is about to start gassing the SWP and the Tories. As if George Bush is going to start building mass graves in California.

Do you know, I don't think George Galloway is actually saying that? It may in fact be that Hari has mis-quoted Galloway again:

"In this regard he is little different to the leaders of most regimes; regime survival is the ultimate priority of most systems - we just don't know it in our own countries, yet." (Page 126).

Okay, so Hari has left out a subclause and a comma. No big deal. I'm not saying he is a sloppy reviewer, because the phrase "sloppy reviewer" is a tautology when it comes to the press. However, the misrepresentation is so comically obvious that I merely wish to point it out, then move on - Galloway is saying that most regimes in the world, if threatened with revolution, will react with extreme violence. He is not justifying such actions, but rather using broadening the net of his critique to include nations beyond a relatively small corner of the Arab world. Everyone clear? Need I underline it any further?

Galloway dares to criticise Christopher Hitchens as an "apostate", when in fact he has consistently been opposed to Saddam and in favour of getting rid of him.

But that is precisely what Galloway cannot stand. There are even large slabs of praise for Saddam in this rancid book. "Just as Stalin industrialized the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted Iraqís own Great Leap Forward," he says, and amazingly, this isn't a criticism. "He managed to keep his country together until 1991. Indeed, he is likely to have been the leader in history who came closest to creating a truly Iraqi national identity, and he developed Iraq and the living, health, social and education standards of his own people."

Hari would be well-advised to consult Hitchens' 1991 writings if he thinks the latter has been "consistently" in favour of regime-change. He adamantly, and eloquently, opposed the first Gulf War, and was even vague on the most recent Gulf War until late 2002, telling Salon that he did not support an invasion of Iraq, although he did support a "confrontation". But when Hari claims that Galloway's comparison of Hussein with Stalin "isn't a criticism", I feel bound to inform you that once again he s mangling his quotes. Saddam, says Galloway, resembles Stalin inasmuchas

"Both were determined to industrialize their countries, whatever the cost. Both had chips on ther shoulders. Both built police states believing the ends justified the means. Both ruthlessly suppressed all tendencies toward the break-up of their country, believing in a strong central authority (themselves) ... And, of course, both could be murderous in pursuit of their goals". (Page 111).

The next part of Hari's quote comes on Page 128, where Galloway notes that Saddam:

"[D]eveloped Iraq and the living, health, social and educational standards of his people. But the brutality of his regime and the sheer lack of democracy meant tha he could in the end be isolated and defeated."

Hari, suffice to say, does not include the last sentence. Nor does he note the sentence, "Stalin gave his factional opponents a show-trial and then killed them. Saddam just killed them." (Page 111). What an apologist! Hari proceeds:

Perhaps the most obscene statement of all come when Galloway libels the Arabs he claims to love. "A majority of Arabs and Muslims [believe] the good Saddam did was more important than the many debits."

That's from Page 129. I better add that Galloway's final sentence on that subject is "For them, in the land of the blind the one-eyed mand is king". This is not an unusual judgment. Take this , for example:

Hussein is also one of the few Arab leaders to have been able to stand up to the West on a regular basis, asserting Iraqi and Arab independence from Western interests and power. This, rather than the brutal repression of his own people, has become the point upon which many Arabs and Muslims have focused the most. In a region which has had few powerful leaders to whom people could point with pride, Saddam Hussein has become something of a folk hero. As poor of a hero as he is, the lack of any better candidates has assured him a position of respect and honor for Arabs and Muslims for generations to come.

Or consider the fact that most Arabs told pollsters , before the assault on Iraq, that a US invasion would bring less democracy. I am not endorsing such views, any more than Galloway is, but it is a simple matter of fact that most of the Arab world feels this way.

"Not odd of God, the goyim annoy 'im."

Hari is also incensed at Galloway's attitude to Israel. Unsurprisingly, the views he adduces are not those to be located in the book. For instance:

Galloway is too cowardly to explicitly oppose a two-state solution, but his wild rhetoric suggests he seeks the very opposite of peace - the destruction of Israel itself, an impossible, loathsome aspiration that is condemning both Palestinians and Israelis to eternal war. For example, he describes the whole of Israel - not just the illegal outposts on the Occupied Territories - as "the West's settler-state sentinel"; how could such a state ever be acceptable? How could it ever deserve to exist? He never mentions the ideal of two states in this book - not once.

Galloway won't say he opposes the two-state solution, but he must mean it. And why? Because he describes Israel, accurately, as "the West's settler-state sentinel". He could have done better than this, actually. One propagandist for British imperialism described Israel as "a loyal little Jewish Ulster" . (Coming from Northern Ireland, I can only say that this rings a bell or two.) How could such a state be acceptable? Hari seems oblivious to the fact that most Palestinians also think of Israel in such terms, yet support a two-state solution. Still, since I'm not "cowardly", I'd just like to affirm my opposition to a two-state solution and indicate that Israel is emphatically not acceptable in its present form. And I will just note in passing that Galloway does, in fact, mention "the ideal of two states" in his book (Page 34) - once.

Hari continues that Galloway "even skirts very close to praising the tactic of suicide bombing". How close? He says that

"Saddam's endless protestations of fidelity to the Palestinian cause were sincere and, as the families of the martyred and wounded know, he put Iraq's money where his mouth was."

How this syllogism is supposed to work, I have no idea. Hari continues:

Galloway pointedly evades the main reasons why the state of Israel was created - or the 800,000 Jews ethnically cleansed from Arab countries in the years that followed.

Hari combines two outlandish assertions in a single sentence, then. Galloway, in fact, does discuss why Zionists set out to create Israel. On Page 31, he specifically tags European anti-Semitism as the culprit. He also notes that anti-Semites like Arthur Balfour had reasons to do with imperial prerogatives in supporting the existence of a "Jewish Homeland". (Hari presumably wants Galloway to say that the Holocaust is the reason why Israel was created. It may in fact be the reason why Israel gained the support of Jews worldwide, but it is not the reason Israel was created. The movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine was up and running long before the 1930s, and in fact the Zionist Federation of Germany sought to take advantage of Hitler's anti-Semitism, entreating him to help them build the Jewish state outside Europe). The second outlandish assertion is that 800,000 Jews were "ethnically cleansed" from Arab countries after 1948. Only the most ardent Zionists actually proclaim this to be the case. The Sephardic Jews of Arab countries migrated to Israel in waves , doubtless because of Arab repression and discrimination in many cases. (Click here for instance.)

Further, and more importantly, why does this count as "the other side"? Are Palestinians responsible for this? Is Galloway obliged to stipulate, every time he expresses support for the Palestinians or denounces Israel's actions, that he also has enormous sympathy for the plight of Sephardic Jews and the hardships they endured in the Arab world? Could we not take this axiomatic and move on?

Hari issues, suffice to say, a profusion of inaccurate and incredible charges against Galloway. He accuses him of wanting to see global capitalism replaced by "a proliferation of neo-Stalinist dictators". Unsurprisingly, Hari keeps the evidence on that one to himself. He avers:

Lawrence stood with Arab tyrants too, arguing that Arabs were too stupid and culturally backward to govern themselves, and were temperamentally suited to "strong men". So does Galloway.

Strange to relate, Galloway spends much of his book attacking racist notions about the Arabs, arguing that they are perfectly capable of governing themselves without the help of Western bombs, and attacking the Arab regimes, including Saddam Hussein's. But in Hari's world... and the sad thing is, he's not the only one.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Glory Be

I have recently had the pleasure of corresponding with Tony Blair’s special envoy on human rights in Iraq, Ann Clwyd. The cynical may claim that Blair’s little Magdalene is simply trying to drum up a bit of support in anticipation of the electoral mauling on 10 June; and they may well be right, as the cynical frequently are. But I think the correspondence is of interest nonetheless, since it gives some indication of just how seriously Ann Clwyd takes human rights in Iraq. Less importantly but more amusingly, it may also indicate how seriously Tony Blair takes Ann Clwyd.

The correspondence was initiated by me on 30 March, although that first email was sent not to Clwyd but to Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian. I did copy the email to Clwyd, however, just in case Rusbridger forgot to tell her about it. In it I took issue with a few points Clwyd had made in a Guardian article published on 30 March. Exulting in the title “Iraq is free at last” and self-promoting in the subtitle “The evidence of Saddam's atrocities I collected was enough to vindicate invasion, but it wasn't taken seriously”, Clwyd’s piece did its best to point up the vast improvement in Iraqi human rights since the illegal assault. By coincidence, this was just after the first anniversary of the invasion, when people were starting to scratch their heads a bit about the weapons of mass nonexistence.

Saint Ann lamented in her article that Saddam’s regime “cost the lives of at least 2 million people through its wars and internal oppression, and 4 million Iraqis were forced to become refugees”, and that “torture and execution of political opponents and the hunting down of dissident elements were … a consistent feature” for over twenty years. That was why we were morally compelled to invade, you see. “There are basic human rights that must be defended.”

In my email, I made the elementary observations that the worst period of Saddam Hussein's tyranny was during the 1980s, when he exerted full power over the Iraqi people and pursued his war of aggression with Iran; and that during this time, he was also a favoured ally and trading partner of, among others, the United Kingdom. Since the Blessed Annie was elected to Parliament as an opposition Labour MP in 1984, I thought she must surely have made her concerns about Saddam’s crimes known to the Conservative government which was condoning them. Certainly the sainted Clwyd must have objected to the DTI's doubling of export credits shortly after Halabja, I said; I wondered why she hadn’t mentioned it.

Naturally, when one addresses the saints, even through so efficient a medium as Alan Rusbridger, one does not expect an immediate or direct reply. Several weeks elapsed before the Magdalene of the Middle East graced my mailbox (on 21 May) with a message thanking me for sharing my views, stating that my comments had been read and noted, and referring me to another article, this one published in the Times of 15 May. All agog, I hastened thence.

“On the streets of Iraq, truth and football are winning”, exulted the title, this time. There was an amusing bit about guns being fired in the air when Iraq’s national team beat Saudi Arabia’s at soccer; “This was party-time Baghdad-style”. Luckily no American bombers arrived to take out any foreign fighters who might have infiltrated the happy crowd – which, as we now know, can happen if one is injudicious enough to get married in certain other parts of the country. “Civic society is flourishing,” Clwyd declared; there was “little nostalgia for Saddam”, which presumably explains that small matter of the doubling export credits and why Saint Ann, as an opposition MP, didn’t oppose them.

Some Iraqis are flourishing not only civically, but archaeologically too: “Thousands of displaced Marsh Arabs are returning to the area to resume a way of life and culture that was 5,000 years old.” Perhaps we are to conclude that getting bombed back into the Neolithic isn’t half as bad as it sounds. Clwyd asked the new Defence Minister what Britain could do now. “His answer was swift: ‘Just stay the course’”. She tactfully declined to mention by how many democratically-cast Iraqi votes the new Defence Minister had gained his position.

Still, there are some startling revelations in all this grinning Blairite vacuity, so I am grateful to Clwyd for drawing her work to my attention. She mentions that she first visited Abu Ghraib in June last year: “I wanted to see it because for 25 years I had known and publicised the awful history of the place.” So it seems the Blessed Annie has been quietly campaigning against Abu Ghraib since 1978. In all that time, and especially later on, in her capacity as Saviour Blair’s special envoy, she must have built up a close relationship with other agencies concerned with human rights. The Red Cross, for example, whose recent report on US abuse and torture of prisoners was, according to director of operations Pierre Kraehenbuehl, little more than a summary of the organisation’s verbal and written briefings to the American authorities between March and November 2003. It would surely be sensible to assume that, after a quarter of a century campaigning against Abu Ghraib, Iraq’s own Elizabeth Fry might have a fairly pro-active interest in what the Red Cross was saying about it.

Well … no. As late as March this year, Clwyd writes, she “knew nothing … about the shocking accusations of abuse which were to follow eight weeks later”. On 10 May, she had a whinge in the House of Commons: “Can my Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State explain why his officials failed to show me the ICRC reports when they arrived?” Perhaps it’s the simplicity of sainthood, but the Blessed Annie’s concept of campaigning seems a little too laid-back for comfort. If one is interested in human rights, one does not ask the Secretary of State for information. One asks the human rights organisations which tend to make more of a point of collecting it.

I have written back to the Blessed Annie of Baghdad asking her about this: “As the Human Rights Envoy to Iraq, in the employ of a Prime Minister who stands shoulder to shoulder with the Bush administration, why were you ignorant of the content of these verbal and written briefings? As Human Rights Envoy, was it not your duty to ask agencies such as the Red Cross their judgement of places like Abu Ghraib, and to investigate and challenge precisely such abuses as were detailed in this report?” Going by present form, I should get an answer when a new scandal prompts the next of Saint Ann’s little tracts upon the blessings of occupation. It shouldn’t take long. According to her Times article, the new man at Abu Ghraib, promising a new regime, is “General Geoffrey Miller, freshly arrived from Guatánamo Bay”.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Guardian or Dick?

Most of us who read or watch the news with a brain cell or two in operation are used to those Philip K Dick moments when a chasm seems to open up in reality, to let a still tattier, more sordid, more malignant reality bulge through into our universe. I still recall the moment before the Iraq invasion when Andrew Marr, on BBC Television, informed his audience that unless the United Nations agreed to sanction military action, there might very soon be a war. Blink. I don’t know if I’m becoming more attentive in between the bouts of nausea, or if the Guardian is becoming more desperate as the government it sort of likes flounders in the occupation it sort of doesn’t like; but lately these moments seem ever more frequent.

We can pass lightly over such routine hilarities as Polly Toynbee’s assertion on 7 May (“Only the UN can save us”) that a reversion on our part to “the laws of the jungle” would be “a self-defeating way to bring civilised values to those whose hearts and minds are the real battleground of ‘the war on terror’”. These sighs of regret about the benighted and barbaric status of our victims are common enough after insurgents have blown up a few dozen people. Similar sighs can also be heard after the occupation forces have blown up a few hundred: that we, in our nobility, should have been reduced to this! So self-defeating! And what, after all, (and most importantly) could we possibly hope to gain from it?

Rather similarly, on 12 May in the catchily titled “Blair’s perversity does him harm and Iraq no good”, Toynbee lamented “12 years of corruptly administered sanctions” which, apparently, have distracted the Iraqis from the benefits of Halliburton and depleted uranium and turned quite a few of them against us. The corruption to which Toynbee refers is a matter of ten thousand million dollars (ten billion, in Newspeak) supposedly swindled from the oil-for-food programme. Divided between fourteen million Iraqis over seven years, this would have come to the princely sum of 15p a day. I suppose it is possible that this bounty might have done something to mitigate the million or so deaths caused by US and British abuse of the sanctions regime; but I doubt that it would have been much, and I harbour an evil suspicion that this wasn’t the point Toynbee was trying to make anyway.

As always, the crimes of those powerful enough to hit back hard are an irrelevance among the independent observer-guardians of free speech. The prospect of the occupation lasting till 2006 is a “dreadful” one for Toynbee, but only because it might be dreadful for Tony, the troops and their owners in Washington. It’s all so self-defeating; it won’t do Labour’s election prospects a bit of good; it’s all very familiar and we all know the script.

We may also dismiss, with a blithe binward toss of the newspaper, the Guardian’s leader of 10 May (“Outside the law”), which notes that the systems and techniques for interrogating people under torture have “been developed by US intelligence agencies and taught to security services the world over, including [the UK]”, and then concludes that “we need to have a sign from President Bush that he understands his mistake”. War crimes for which the US government is responsible are, by definition, mistakes. I know it and you know it. Still in this universe; no problem there.

But then we come to the Guardian’s leader of 13 May (“Taking rights seriously”), which opens with the assertion that the present British government has “in many important respects, a very good record on human rights”. You see, it talks about them all the time, especially when dropping bombs on people, and you can’t really argue with that. Also, it passed the Human Rights Act of 1998, and then “removed essential protections in some of the cases where they are particularly important”. Blink. So that’s all you need to do in order to have a satisfactory human rights record in the Guardian’s eyes: pass a law, then abrogate the bits that don’t suit you. One recognises the attitude, of course, but it is rare to see it expressed so baldly, particularly in the liberal media.

As if that brief glint of malignant truth were not enough, the same leader also manages to include the statement, “the US desperately needs a strategy which returns [sic] respect for human rights to the centre of its purposes in Iraq”. I did write and ask Alan Rusbridger when respect for human rights had ever been demonstrably near the centre of US purposes in Iraq, but to date I have received no reply. Apparently the portal between our separate universes is a temperamental creature.

That was it for a while, as I had to go and lie down for five days or so; but today I had two more such moments – both from one single issue of the Guardian. One, by the ever-reliable David Aaronovitch (“Why do they hate Blair so much?”) is a largely routine dissection of the dark Freudian motives which may possibly underlie certain people’s wish to get Tony out of Downing Street. It’s surreal because, while Aaronovitch admits as fact that 46% of the electorate think Blair should go, he also states that his analysis applies only to “certain small sections of society” who aren’t “really about ideology”. Blink. The dark, Freudian motives which animate the substantial remainder of Blair’s enemies, some of whom may possibly have some interest in politics, are apparently unworthy of analysis, unless “Of course, there’s the war” counts as such.

My other, and major, blink for today was courtesy of Martin Kettle, who launched into a diatribe against his own profession that makes Peter Preston’s occasional bilious attacks against his readers seem a pale, thin green by comparison. Kettle’s opening salvo was directed, predictably enough, at recently-sacked Mirror editor Piers Morgan’s back. Morgan, we read, “told a very big and an extremely prominently displayed lie in his newspaper and, as his [sic] lie unravelled, continued to defend it” (Guardian, 18 May, “Journalists’ self-righteous arrogance has gone too far”). Blink. Apparently if one is the victim of a hoax, one becomes complicit with the hoaxer. The logical conclusion of that reasoning would seem to be that, if Blair was deceived by his intelligence services about those weapons of mass nonexistence, Blair is still the bare-faced sanctimonious liar 45.9999% of the population know him to be.

Kettle goes on to draw parallels between the Mirror’s exposure of playtime in Iraq and the Sun’s attempt to expose Maxine Carr’s new identity, implying that the motives in each case were merely “reflexive resentment of the law and the desire to make mischief”. The fact that real abuses have taken place and presumably still are, and that the Mirror dragged this necessary truth into the public gaze, is not mentioned in Kettle’s article. Perhaps, in his opinion, it aggravates rather than mitigates Morgan’s sins.

Kettle finds no room, in the twelve hundred words of his article, for the unquestioning acceptance by lesser journalists than himself of the Government’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s WMD; or their acceptance of the claim that Saddam Hussein could do horrid things to us with only forty-five minutes’ warning; or their acceptance of the claim that the war was to liberate the Iraqi people. In his righteous calls for genuine freedom of the press, there is not a single mention of the Murdoch monopoly – a right-wing stranglehold by a foreign citizen over more than half the British press. Kettle, instead, castigates the robber barons of the past. This at least is rational enough. They’re dead.

But it’s Kettle’s proposed solution to the problem that is the true surrealist gem in this article. Having quoted Walter Lippmann to the effect that “the crisis of democracy is a crisis in journalism” and claimed that “Today it is the other way around”, what does Kettle think should be done? What is the way to settle things in a democracy? Obviously, the Government needs to step in: “For a start, the government should set up a royal commission on the press.” The Government must do this so that people can “set the framework of the kinds of media they require, and to set them in accordance with the needs of civil society for good media, as well as in the material interests of the media owners for big profits.”

Blink. Evidently there is no conflict between the needs of civil society and the needs of media owners pursuing big profits, just as there is no conflict when the Government steps in to safeguard democracy. Blink. Reality splits apart before our eyes, and the Gnostic nightmare of modern journalism pokes through the gap, lecturing. Shut your eyes tight and scream if it helps. Philip K Dick, thou shouldst be living at this hour.

Monday, May 10, 2004

DoD DoA: Lessons in Media Revisionism

The Road to Surfdom has discovered that:

The Department of Defense mailing list has gone to the trouble of sending around the following message:

Please disregard earlier AFPS story, "Rumsfeld Apologizes to Iraqi Victims of Prison Abuse," datelined May 5, 2004, and issued on this listserv.
Please use the revised text, which follows:

And then follows the full story which you can find here. The link to the previous story is no longer operative, in fact, it takes you to the new story.

The two articles are virtually identical except for the opening and the title. The orginal went like this:

Rumsfeld Apologizes to Iraqi Victims of Prison Abuse
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2004 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld apologized today to Iraqis abused by American prison guards in Abu Ghraib.

"Any American who sees the photographs that we've seen has to feel apologetic to the Iraqi people who were abused and recognize that that is something that is unacceptable and certainly un-American," Rumsfeld said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

The secretary left open the door that compensation could be paid to the abuse victims.

The updated article reads as follows:

Prison Abuse 'Unacceptable, Un-American', Rumsfeld Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2004 – "Any American who sees the photographs that we've seen has to feel apologetic to the Iraqi people who were abused and recognize that that is something that is unacceptable and certainly un-American," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today.

Rumsfeld discussed the alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees by American guards at Abu Ghraib prison on ABC TV's "Good Morning America." The secretary left open the door that compensation could be paid to the abuse victims.

I guess they really don't want us to get the impression that the Secretary would apologise. So noted.

I apologise for extracting the entire post, but the details are important for what follows. Cursor links to an MSNBC news story which is advertised as follows:

MSNBC reports that acccording to U.S. military officials, unreleased images from Abu Ghraib "showed U.S. soldiers severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi prisoner and 'acting inappropriately with a dead body.' The officials said there was also a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys."

Unfortunately, the story they link to now says something different completely. It no longer contains, for instance, the cited paragraph. Why?

Google has the answer. A search for that paragraph on Google locates the exact article to which Cursor link, with those words highlighted. However, clicking on the link only produces the altered article again. Instead, if you click on "Cached", you get this :

Rumsfeld apologizes to abused Iraqis

Defense secretary warns that worse photos, videos are yet to come


Rumsfeld did not describe the photos, but U.S. military officials told NBC News that the unreleased images showed U.S. soldiers severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi female prisoner and “acting inappropriately with a dead body.” The officials said there was also a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys.

Not only have MSNBC removed the terms of apology as requested by the DoD (instead it is the American people who must "feel apologetic to the Iraqi people who were abused and recognize that that is something that is unacceptable and certainly un-American"), but they have also scrubbed out the bulk of the worthy news...

Johann Hari in an Age of Opinion Polls.

How will Johann Hari manage this? As perhaps the most perfect democrat in the world, Hari has constantly abided by his selection of Iraqi opinion poll results so that he now finds himself aligned with those proposing the end of the occupation of Iraq .

In fact, to digress briefly, this sits well with an emerging pattern of pro-war journos and columnists coming out against the war and the occupation (although Hari remains a fervent defender of the Saddam ouster):

Tony Parsons, one of the most forthright critics of antiwar protesters, now says:

"STOP me if I am missing something here, but if former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic can end up on trial for war crimes committed under his leadership, then why can't Tony Blair?"

Minette Marin of the Sunday Times "had faith in America's plan for Iraq" but now confesses that she:

"was wrong ... Meanwhile, Iraqi support for the coalition appears to be dwindling. According to an opinion poll for the newspaper USA Today (published before last week’s torture photos appeared), 82% of people in Baghdad said they saw the coalition forces as occupiers rather than liberators and more than 60% of Arabs across the country, both Sunni and Shia, said the American and British troops should leave immediately. The handover sounds like a dangerous mess and there is talk of partition."

Ah yes, what of that opinion poll? It takes us to the heart of the subject. According to a comprehensive poll of 3,500 Iraqis published in USA Today , 50% say the situation is either "somewhat worse", "much worse" or "about the same" now as it was last year, while U.S.-British military action in Iraq cannot be justified "at all" or "somewhat" according to 52% of Iraqis (26% say it can sometimes, but not other times). Finally, most damningly, 57% of Iraqis say occupying forces should leave "immediately". Yet another poll showed that "a majority of Iraqis said they'd feel safer if the U.S. military withdrew immediately". This poll was taken before the torture scandal, and contains a surprise or two:

For example, while American officials insist that only fringe elements support the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a majority of Iraqis crossed ethnic and sectarian lines to name him the second most-respected man in Iraq, according to the coalition-funded poll.

On top of which, the most recent UK opinion poll shows that 49% of the public now oppose the war , with only 43% in favour. Similarly, according to today's Independent, 55% of the public want a full withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq by June 30th .

Now, since Johann Hari has made a career out of adjusting his view on Iraq according to the latest minutiae of polling data, what can we now expect? Shall he announce that, for example, 47% of him thinks Resistance attacks against the Americans are unjustified while the remaining 53% of him thinks either that it sometimes can, or that it always can? Will he now demand respect for Moqtada al-Sadr, the second most popular mofo in Iraq?

Harry , however, has advised Hari against his fidelity to the Iraqi majority: "My solidarity is not with ‘the Iraqis’ and it never has been. My solidarity is with Iraqi and Kurdish democrats and it is clear at the moment who their main enemy is."

US soldiers? Shurely not! Hari retorts that "If we defy the majority in the name of democracy, what kind of Iraq will the democrats eventually inherit? Won't it be even more radicalised and angry? Won't the democrats - rightly - look out of touch and be deposed swiftly?"

But, after all, Johann, there is a get-out clause which you may adopt. Turn your mind back to his debate with Media Lens :

"Perhaps you don't understand this, but mob rule and democracy are different things. If we determined our policies by who could get the biggest crowd onto the street, we would have the death penalty, deportation of asylum seekers, withdrawal from the EU and god knows what else."

So, Johann could give up tail-coating the opinion polls and make a recommendation based on his view of the actors involved and the likely consequences. It would be unlikely to result in a substantial alteration of his views (which probably reveals something in itself), but it would oblige him to cease this intellectual subterfuge of ducking behind the nearest Iraqi majority. The trouble, of course, with this argument is that he would then be obliged to forget about justifying the war on the post-hoc basis that opinion polls taken after the war showed a majority of Iraqis felt it was worth it. Still, if you want to help Johann reach a failsafe conclusion, you can e-mail him at As he says "I don't have a fully-formed view on this and I'm eager to hear from everyone." Muck in, chaps!

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Miraculous Media Magic

Sometimes, at moments of crisis, people will pull off the most astounding feats of spiritual, intellectual and physical might. During the build-up to the assault on Iraq, the weight of evidence against Saddam Hussein’s possessing any WMD was to the British press as the gossamer weight of a ten-ton truck to the mother who, by main strength alone, lifts it off the foot of her beloved toddler. Nowadays, the gathering tonnage of evidence against the official story on 9/11 floats featherlike, way above the heads of mainstream hacks. Several billion barrels of oil lurking beneath the Iraqi sands, and quite possibly evident even to the erstwhile oil-company chimp George W Bush, have failed almost entirely to merit media comment in connection with the US/UK assault.

Remember too that these stunning feats of intellectual discipline were already being performed while our happier brethren still thought Iraq’s military occupiers would be pelted with flowers by the grateful natives and possibly solicited for protection from the Great Iranian Nuclear Beast. Now that this pleasant scenario appears a bit less attainable, still greater miracles may soon be required. Happily, it looks as if they’re on the way.

Let’s recap the seriousness of the problem, just so you can really appreciate the wonder being performed. The original excuse for our little adventure, Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, started off ludicrous and then just kept getting more so. Student dossiers and fake intelligence claims eventually gave way to compassionate screeches for regime change, and then finally to de facto bilateral secession from the United Nations in the name of international law, justice, humanitarianism and generally being nice. Then, having systematically bombed and starved Iraq for a decade or so, we dropped a lot more bombs and invaded the place.

Strangely, although regime change was achieved in short order, there was a decided lack of floral peltings. Possibly some of the ungratefulnatives remembered the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein was a favoured satrap of Britain and the US among others; possibly a few more Iraqis remembered 1991, after the Kuwaiti Freedom Turkey Shoot, when an uprising which might have deposed Saddam was savagely put down with the active connivance of Britain and the United States. Some of these Middle Eastern types just can’t let go of a grudge. In any case, the idea that Britain and the US might be welcomed as liberators, just like in France ’44, has now gone up fairly conclusively in the smoke belching out of Falluja. And even before Falluja, the weapons of mass destruction had been conspicuous by their absence. All in all, rather a traumatic sequence of events for your caring cruise-missile leftie. At some point in the middle of April, as the Americans pounded Falluja, Johann Hari noted that his pizza was “melancholic”.

Now to the miracles. The first hint that I’m aware of came from the Guardian’s leader writer as far back as 6 March. At the finale of a somewhat over-tactful assessment of Tony Blair’s latest sermon, the leader “Seriously in conflict” demanded rhetorically:

“who will swear that Saddam's Iraq would not have been … a threat had it been able?”

This is really quite remarkable. The ethical problems involved in illegally pre-empting non-existent weapons are gloriously swept away on a wave of subjunctives. Yes, yes, Saddam’s Iraq was no threat; but had it been able to be a threat, it almost certainly would have been one. Or do you dare to swear the contrary? Seriously, now – in the face of such arguments, what is one to do?

The trouble with attacking people on the strength of a possibility which just might take place someday, of course, is that it’s a little difficult to prove one’s case in advance, even if one is prepared to swear to it; and if one simply rules that cases don’t need to be proven in advance, all sorts of abuses can go on. Imagine what might happen if the wrong kind of foreigner got hold of the Guardian’s doctrine and twisted it to his dire and disgusting will. Nuremberg 1946, for instance:

“Who will swear, Mr Prosecutor, that the millions who died in the camps would not have been a threat to the Third Reich had they been able?”

Clearly, in order to prevent inconveniences of this kind, it would be advisable to have the truth on one’s own side as far as possible. And of course, there are only two ways to determine the truth with regard to events that haven’t happened yet. One is to wait for the events to take place, which has the dubious advantage of being perfectly legal; but of course, by the time an event has happened it is generally too late to pre-empt it, and whence then the great Bush-Blair legacy to international relations?

The other way to get at the truth of future events is to become clairvoyant; but even here there’s a catch. Suppose that, having achieved knowledge of the future, you observe Saddam Hussein preparing the mushroom cloud for London. Naturally, you rush to pre-empt him. But once he has been pre-empted, the threat no longer exists and therefore the mushroom cloud is no longer part of the future. But if the mushroom cloud is not part of the future, how can your clairvoyance warn of the threat? Clearly what is required is not clairvoyance merely, but the ability to predict – reliably, of course – events that might possibly have taken place, had other events not occurred to stop them.

Bearing in mind that media hacks are the kind of people who can’t even keep the past straight, this might seem a bit of a tall order; but there are encouraging signs. On 14 April, Johann Hari noted in the Independent:

“if the invasion had not happened, Saddam would have killed 70,000 people in the past year. Not sanctions: Saddam's tyranny alone.”

Apparently, this was according to the Human Rights Centre in Kadhimiya. How the Human Rights Centre arrived at this figure, or what evidence Johann Hari may have for its reliability, are obviously not questions we need to worry about. In the same article, Hari states that

“In Washington on Thursday, Blair will argue that inflating Sadr into an iconic monster - and arresting or killing him - will only make matters worse.”

Note the quality of that insight into Blair’s brain – direct, incisive, reassuring and, presumably, entirely independent of the wishes, thoughts and fantasies of your humble servant, Johann Hari.

David Aaronovitch has picked up the knack as well:

“Whatever the rights and wrongs of the invasion of Iraq, this much is certain: had it not been for this 'basic mistake', far worse things would be happening to Iraqis in Abu Ghraib every single day.” (Observer, 2 May)

Although to the ignorant and backsliding it may appear to deal entirely with conjectural events, this assertion is “beyond conjecture”, apparently. Well, that settles that, then.

I have great hopes for this new journalistic faculty. The discipline at work should stand as an example to all. To be able to claim, as Aaronovitch does, that events which have not happened and will not happen are “beyond conjecture”, while at the same time obliterating from memory a set of facts as obtrusive and disgusting as “Tanker Girl” Condi Rice’s Zorg-style hairdo, is surely the feat of a journalistic yogi, as astounding in its way as lying, unharmed, on a bed of nails. Such power of the will, such ability to lie, unharmed, in the face of the most brutal facts, should not be allowed to go unrecognised. I look forward to the development of Aaronovitch’s and Hari’s miraculous abilities in more and more pro-war journalists, as their crisis gets deeper, and deeper, and deeper.