How To Silence an Awkward Newspaper

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The
editor of the Daily Mirror, Britain’s most famous mass-circulation
newspaper, was sacked because he ran the only English-language popular
paper to expose the "war on terror" as a fraud and the
invasion of Iraq as a crime. He was marked long before the Mirror
published the notorious, apparently faked pictures of British troops
torturing Iraqi prisoners.

On
4 July 2002, American Independence Day, the Mirror published
a report of mine, displayed on the front page under the headline
"Mourn on the Fourth of July" and showing Bush flanked
by the Stars and Stripes. Above him were the words: "George
W Bush’s policy of bomb first and find out later has killed double
the number of civilians who died on 11 September. The USA is now
the world’s leading rogue state. "It was the Mirror
at its most potent; not since it distinguished itself as the first
mass-circulation paper in the western world to oppose the US invasion
of Vietnam and, before that, the British invasion of Suez, had it
confronted the rapacious policies of a British government and its
principal ally. Most of the Western media were then consumed and
manipulated by the fake issue of Iraq’s non-existent weapons of
mass destruction: "45 minutes from attack," said the London
Evening Standard front page; "He’s got ‘em… let’s get
him," said the London Sun.

In
contrast, the Mirror reported that Bush and Blair were lying,
that the "liberation" of Afghanistan had installed warlords
as barbaric as the Taliban, that US forces had killed almost double
the number of civilians killed in the twin towers on 11 September
2001, and that the coming invasion of Iraq had been long planned.
It was certainly not the first to say this, but it made sense of
it for a popular readership.

The
day after the "mourn on the Fourth of July" piece was
published, a senior executive of the New York investment company
Tweedy Browne, major shareholders in the Trinity Mirror newspaper
group, called the Mirror and shouted down the phone at senior
management, demanding Morgan’s head and mine. This pressure continued
as the Murdoch press in the United States and other lunar right-wing
papers and broadcasters railed against the "treacherous"
Mirror. When, on 1 May last, the Mirror published
its "torture" photographs, Tweedy Browne again led the
charge of powerful shareholders, notably Fidelity Asset Management,
the biggest mutual company in America, run by the billionaire Edward
C Johnson III, a donor to the Bush re-election campaign. "We
will have to look very carefully," said an executive of Deutsche
Asset Management, another shareholder, "at what Trinity Mirror
does next in order to protect the value of the Mirror brand."
Was corporate influence on the press, and its right to be wrong,
ever more eloquently expressed? Morgan had only just survived a
year earlier when a new Trinity Mirror senior management under the
chief executive, Sly Bailey, ordered him to "tone down"
the anti-war coverage and return the paper to celebrities and faithless
royal butlers (who had never departed). In the following months,
the Mirror, along with the other anti-war daily newspaper
in Britain, the Independent, was vindicated. Today, Bush and Blair
are universally distrusted and reviled, and the defeat of their
atrocious enterprise seems assured.

In
bringing this truth to the public, the Mirror departed from
the pack as no popular paper has, and the part it played ought not
to be buried in the mire of the British tabloid world. For two years,
the Mirror represented a majority of the British people,
whose critical understanding of Blair’s pre-invasion charade was
always ahead of journalists’. The Mirror did what a newspaper
is meant to do: it kept the record straight. Instead of channelling
and amplifying official lies, the Mirror more often than
not challenged and exposed them to a readership often dismissed
or patronised by those claiming to know what "the public really
wants." Since Morgan’s departure, no newspaper has demanded
that the Ministry of Defence produce the "incontrovertible
evidence" that the Mirror’s photographs were faked.
The hearsay and apologetics of a regiment with a documented record
of brutality in Iraq, facing at least five murder prosecutions,
have been accepted. If the Mirror was stitched up, was it
merely for money? Instead of pursuing that, as the editors of MediaLens
website point out, "a cowed media lined up to heap invective
on the sacked editor and to declare the decision u2018correct’, u2018necessary’,
u2018inevitable’."

The
BBC, having got rid of the one reporter, Andrew Gilligan, who caught
out Blair, and having duly disported itself before the whitewashing
Hutton inquiry, allowed Andrew Neil to dominate its news of Morgan’s
sacking with an attack on the Mirror’s "very slanted
and skewed journalism" — and this from a former Murdoch
editor, a caricature who waved his champagne glass at 5,000 men
sacked by his master, whose scurrilous London Sunday Times smear
campaigns included the notorious campaign against the current affairs
programme Death on the Rock, which had lifted a veil on the secret
British state and its terrorism. The collusion of the respectable
media in the epic crime in Iraq is rarely discussed. Recently, there
have been honourable exceptions. David Rose, who wrote major investigative
articles for the Observer that linked Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda
and to the anthrax attacks in America — claims long discredited
— wrote in the Evening Standard that he looked "back with
shame and disbelief" at his support for the invasion. In the
United States, a number of journalists have written regretfully
about the supine way the freest press in the world allowed the Bush
regime to get away with its lies.

Charles
Lewis, a former CBS star reporter and now director of the Centre
for Public Integrity, told me that had the media "fulfilled
their unique constitutional role and challenged the administration’s
lies, such as those tying Iraq to al-Qaeda, there is a very, very
good chance we would not have gone to war. "With the exception
of the Mirror, the Independent and intermittently the Guardian,
the same can be said of the British media. British television rarely
showed the full horror of "shock and awe" that the Arab
world saw via its satellite broadcasters. Videotape and photographs
were sanitised. Phillip Knightley points out that there was an "unwritten
agreement that nothing too horrific made it on to the screen or
the front pages. Take the photograph of a weeping Iraqi grandfather
cradling in his arms his little granddaughter, severely injured
in a Coalition bomb attack on Basra… You cannot recall it? I am
not surprised…" This picture, like so many pictures of suffering
civilians, ran in its entirety in the Arab press, but was cropped
in Britain and America so that what was left of the little girl’s
horribly mangled feet was not visible. The excuse was that it was
not "tasteful. "The campaign against the BBC by Blair’s
spin-master, by the Murdoch press and Conrad Black’s Telegraph
and finally by Hutton, was Goebbels-quality: a deliberate distraction,
and perverse in the extreme. No follower of the government’s war
agenda was more faithful than the BBC. A comprehensive Media Tenor
survey of coverage of Iraq by the world’s leading broadcasters’
found that the BBC had given just 2 per cent to demonstrations of
anti-war dissent — less than even American broadcasters. A
Cardiff University study found no evidence that the BBC was anything
but pro-war. Historically, the BBC has always supported the establishment’s
wars by declaring the status quo (war) neutral and dissent "biased."
Propaganda made respectable dominates the very language and tone
of news and current affairs.

Thus,
BBC1′s Panorama on 23 September 2002 claimed to have "hard
evidence" about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, having
accepted as true a fake story about a secret biological weapons
laboratory under a major hospital in Baghdad. In common with most
of the media, the BBC went along with the greatest hoax of all:
Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council
in February last year as a final justification for the invasion.
This was made up of cartoon-like drawings, such as "Slide 21,"
of which Powell said: "Here you see both truck- and railcar-mounted
mobile factories." Powell called this "diagramising."
Of the satellite images he presented, he said, "The photos
that I am about to show you are sometimes hard for the average person
to interpret, hard for me. The painstaking work of photo analysis
takes experts with years and years of experience, poring for hours
and hours over light tables." This was the "irrefutable
evidence" for "65 facilities [that have] housed chemical
weapons. "It was all fake, as the profoundly cynical Powell
has since hinted. Bush himself has since joked about the lack of
evidence of weapons; Paul Wolfowitz has revealed that the WDM "story"
was "agreed" as one that the public would swallow; Donald
Rumsfeld has admitted there was no link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
Thanks to their propaganda, played unchallenged through most of
the media, millions of Americans still believe it. In Iraq, soldiers
talk about killing and mistreating Iraqis "as payback for 9/11.
"In Britain, protecting the reputation of the British army
from the current contagion of revelations is a priority task. Ironically,
Piers Morgan, who has a brother in the army, was always reluctant
to publish anything that suggested "our boys" were like
their rampaging allies. When the Mirror published its "torture"
photographs on 1 May, the paper stressed that the transgressors
were "rogue" soldiers. It was wrong.

Hoax
or otherwise, what the Mirror’s photographs revealed was
a trail of abuse and worse that runs right through the British army
in Iraq. Much of the evidence for this has been collected by a tireless
Birmingham solicitor, Phil Shiner, acting for 13 Iraqi families,
and by the Independent on Sunday, whose outstanding investigations
almost salvage the honour of British journalism. The IoS reveals
there are now nearly 40 cases of allegedly unlawful killings of
Iraqi civilians and prisoners by British forces since the invasion.
When compared with the 37 suspicious deaths of prisoners held by
the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, the potential scale of the
British crime becomes evident, although it is clear these figures
represent only the surface. Evidence that soldiers of the Queen’s
Lancashire Regiment carried out systematic torture under the direction
of an officer is to go to the high court. "In some cases officers
actually took part," says Amnesty International. Yet on 14
May, a colonel from this regiment had the nerve to suggest that
Morgan’s "ego" was the price of "the life of the
soldier" — a line almost certainly spun for him. Journalists
are well aware of what Amnesty calls systematic abuse. A year ago,
the Sun published "artist’s impressions" of photographs
taken by soldiers of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers showing them
stringing up Iraqi prisoners of war from a fork-lift truck and forcing
them to simulate sex acts. Several of the soldiers have been prosecuted.
A BBC newsreader referred to such photographs as "mere mementoes."
Imagine the response, had they been of Iraqis torturing British
PoWs. On the day Morgan was sacked, a BBC reporter, Nicholas Witchell,
said: "After the appalling reality of what the Americans have
been doing, the Mirror’s pictures threatened to compromise
the work of every British soldier." By contrasting the "reality"
of American abuse with the unreality of "the Mirror’s
pictures," Witchell managed to whitewash the British army while
fretting that its good "work" in Iraq might be "compromised."
Are BBC trainees taught sophistry like this?

The
British army is doing no worse in Iraq than it has done in its long
history of colonial occupations. Torture was deployed as a strategy
in Palestine (where the British pioneered the terror tactic of home
demolitions), in Cyprus, the British Cameroons, Brunei, British
Guiana, Aden, Borneo and Northern Ireland. In Malaya, the conversion
of entire villages to concentration camps and the use of carcinogenic
defoliants were copied by the Americans in Vietnam. In Northern
Ireland, British interrogators refined their methods, reported Amnesty,
"for the purpose or effect of causing a malfunction or breakdown
of a man’s mental processes." Little of this was reported at
the time. Today, thanks to a couple of "rogue" newspapers,
the digital camera and the Internet, the public is getting the truth,
day by day, image by image, fact by fact. Michael Berg, whose son
Nick was beheaded in Iraq and who blames Bush and Rumsfeld, asks:
"How can you take responsibility when there are no consequences?"
As they manipulate the United Nations to set up a stooge regime
in Baghdad, the Americans and British are granting their own troops
immunity from prosecution. After all, said a BBC commentator, the
soldiers’ misdeeds "do not compare with Saddam Hussein’s systematic
tortures and executions." So the tyranny of Saddam Hussein
is now the west’s moral compass, is it?

Will
journalists allow Blair to get away with yet another charade? Or
will they ask why Article 7 of the statute of the International
Criminal Court, to which Britain is a signatory, is not being invoked?
This makes clear that British and American behaviour in Iraq is
categorised under "crimes against humanity," for which
the ultimate responsibility lies, as ever, at the top.

May
29, 2004

John
Pilger
was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. This article was first published in
the New Statesman.

©
John Pilger 2004

John
Pilger Archives

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