From Iraq to the G8: The Polite Crushing of Dissent and Truth

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the past two weeks, the contrast between two related “global” events
has been salutary. The first was the World Tribunal on Iraq held
in Istanbul; the second the G8 meeting in Scotland and the Make
Poverty History campaign. Reading the papers and watching television
in Britain, you would know nothing about the Istanbul meetings,
which produced the most searing evidence to date of the greatest
political scandal of modern times: the attack on a defenceless Iraq
by America and Britain.

The tribunal is a serious international public inquiry into the
invasion and occupation, the kind governments dare not hold. “We
are here,” said the author Arundathi Roy in Istanbul, “to examine
a vast spectrum of evidence (about the war) that has been deliberately
marginalised and suppressed, its legality, the role of international
institutions and major corporations in the occupation, the role
of the media, the impact of weapons such as depleted uranium munitions,
napalm, and cluster bombs, the use and legitimising of torture .
. . This tribunal is an attempt to correct the record: to document
the history of the war not from the point of view of the victors
but of the temporarily anguished.”

anguished” implies that, even faced with such rampant power, the
Iraqi people will recover. You certainly need this sense of hope
when reading the eyewitness testimonies which demonstrate, as Roy
pointed out, “that even those of us who have tried to follow the
war closely are not aware of a fraction of the horrors that have
been unleashed in Iraq.”

The most shocking was given by Dahr Jamail. Unless you read the
Internet, you will not know who Dahr Jamail is. He is not an amusing
Baghdad blogger. For me, he is the finest reporter working in Iraq.
With the exception of Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and several
others, mostly freelancers, he shames the flak-jacketed, cliché
crunching camp followers known as “embeds." A Lebanese with
American citizenship, Jamail has been almost everywhere the camp
followers have not. He has reported from the besieged city of Fallujah,
whose destruction and atrocities have been suppressed by western
broadcasters, notably by the BBC. (See

In Istanbul, Jamail bore his independent reporter’s witness to the
thousands of Iraqis tortured in Abu Ghraib and other American prisons.
His account of what happened to a civil servant in Baghdad was typical.
This man, Ali Abbas, had gone to a US base to inquire about his
missing neighbours. On his third visit, he was arrested without
charge, stripped naked, hooded and forced to simulate sex with other
prisoners. This was standard procedure. He was beaten on his genitals,
electrocuted in the anus, denied water and forced to watch as his
food was thrown away. A loaded gun was held to his head to prevent
him from screaming in pain as his wrists were bound so tightly that
the blood drained from his hands. He was doused in cold water while
a fan was held to his body.

put on a loud speaker,” he told Jamail, “put the speakers on my
ears and said, ‘Shut up, f__k, f__k, f__k!’ He was refused sleep.
S__t was wiped on him and dogs were used on him. “Sometimes at night
when he read his Koran,” said Jamail, “(he) had to hold it in the
hallway for light. Soldiers would buy and kick the Holy Koran, and
sometimes they would try to piss on it or wipe s__t on it.” A female
soldier told him, “Our aim is to put you in hell . . . These are
the orders from our superiors, to turn your lives into hell.”

Jamail described how Fallujah’s hospitals have been subjected to
an American tactic of collective punishment, with US marines assaulting
staff and stopping the wounded entering, and American snipers firing
at the doors and windows, and medicines and emergency blood prevented
from reaching the hospitals. Children were shot dead in front of
their families, in cold blood.

The two men responsible for this, George Bush and Tony Blair, attended
the G8 meeting at Gleneagles. Unlike the Iraq Tribunal, there was
saturation coverage, yet no one in the “mainstream” — from the embedded
media to the Make Poverty History organisers and the accredited,
acceptable celebrities — made the obvious connection of Bush’s and
Blair’s enduring crime in Iraq. No one stood and said that Blair’s
smoke-and-mirrors “debt cancellation” at best amounted to less than
the money the government spent in a week brutalising Iraq, where
British and American violence was the cause of the doubling of child
poverty and malnutrition since Saddam Hussein was overthrown (Unicef).

In Edinburgh, a shameless invitation-only meeting of Christian Aid
supporters and church leaders was addressed by Britain’s treasurer,
Gordon Brown, the paymaster of this carnage. Only one person asked
him, “When will you stop the rape of the poor’s resources? Why are
there so many conditions on aid?” This lone protestor was not referring
specifically to Iraq, but to most of the world. He was thrown out,
to cheers from among the assembled Christians.

That set the theme for the G8 week: the silencing and pacifying
and co-option of real dissent and truth. It was Frantz Fanon, the
great intellectual-activist of Africa, who exposed colonial greed
and violence dressed up as polite do-goodery, and nothing has changed,
in Africa, as in Iraq. The mawkish images on giant screens behind
the pop stars in Hyde Park beckoned a wilful, self-satisfied ignorance.
There was none of the images that television refuses to show: of
murdered Iraqi doctors with the blood streaming from their heads,
cut down by Bush’s snipers.

On the front page of the Guardian, the Age of Irony was celebrated
as real life became more satirical than satire could ever be. There
was Bob Geldoff resting his smiling face on smiling Blair’s shoulder,
the war criminal and his jester. Elsewhere, there was an heroically
silhouetted Bono, who celebrates men like Jeffrey Sachs as saviours
of the world’s poor while lauding “compassionate” George Bush’s
“war on terror” as one of his generation’s greatest achievements;
and there again was Brown, the enforcer of unfair rules of trade,
saying incredibly that “unfair rules of trade shackle poor people”;
and Paul Wolfowitz, beaming next to the Archbishop of Canterbury:
this is the man who, before he was handed control of the World Bank,
devised much of Bush’s so-called neo-conservative putsch, the mendacious
justification for the bloodfest in Iraq and the notion of “endless

And if you missed all that, there is a downloadable PDF kit from
a “one Campaign” e-mail to “help you organise your very own ongoing
Live8 party." The suppression of African singers and bands, parked
where Geldoff decreed, in an environmental theme park in Cornwall,
in front of an audience of less than 50 people, was described correctly
by Andy Kershaw as “musical apartheid."

Has there ever been a censorship as complete and insidious and ingenious
as this? Even when Stalin airbrushed his purged comrades from the
annual photograph on top of Lenin’s mausoleum, the Russian people
could fill in the gaps. Media and cultural hype provide infinitely
more powerful propaganda weapons in the age of Blair. With Diana,
there was grief by media. With Iraq, there was war by media. Now
there is mass distraction by media, a normalising of the unmentionable
that “the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent
people," wrote the playwright Arthur Miller, “and so the evidence
has to be internally denied.”

Deploying the unction of Bono, Madonna, Paul McCartney and of course
Geldoff, whose Live Aid 21 years ago achieved nothing for the people
of Africa, the contemporary plunderers and pawnbrokers of that continent
have pulled off an unprecedented scam: the antithesis of 15 February
2003 when two million people brought both their hearts and brains
to the streets of London.

is not a march in the sense of a demonstration, but more of a walk,”
said Make Poverty History’s Bruce Whitehead. “The emphasis is on
fun in the sun. The intention is to welcome the G8 leaders to Scotland
and ask them to deliver trade justice, debt cancellation and increased
aid to developing countries.”


In Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice asked the Cheshire Cat and the
Mad Hatter to show her the way out of wonderland. They did, over
and again, this way, that way, until she lost her temper and brought
down her dream world, waking her up. The people killed and maimed
in Iraq and the people wilfully impoverished in Africa by our governments
and our institutions in our name, demand that we wake up.

8, 2005

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. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, is
published by Jonathan Cape next month. This article was first published
in the New Statesman.

John Pilger 2005

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