Here it is ten years after the Gulf war, and the lies told by the US government are still pouring in. Most recently, Seymour Hersh writes in the New Yorker that a two-star general ordered a massacre against a five-mile line of retreating Iraqi soldiers, and did so two days after a ceasefire went into effect. Hundreds of soldiers were murdered, men and boys who posed no threat and didn’t know the war was still on. Many civilians, including children, were also shot. The numbers are still unclear because the corpses were buried quickly by the tank-bulldozers.
This is no speculative piece. Hersh quotes many eye-witnesses to the attack and the carnage on the record, one of whom was very close to the general, and musters irrefutable evidence, gleaned from more than three hundred interviews, of war crimes (a phrase used by an anonymous leaker inside the military). American soldiers called it a "turkey shoot" that ended up destroying 700 tanks, armored cars, and trucks. The allegations have been made before and examined in four separate government reports. But Hersh goes through them and, in the course of an exhaustive and terrifying 25,000-word article, shows that each one is a whitewash.
Why was this bloodshed not reported at the time? There were no media around to witness it. They were operating under the military’s rules — accepted by a press said to be jealous of its liberties — against any unsupervised reporting in post-war Iraq. The general, meanwhile, told journalists about the incident and spoon-fed them tales about dangerous Iraqis attempting suicidal post-ceasefire attacks. He said it was a proportional retaliation, a claim that Hersh completely demolishes with the help of people inside the military who could be silent no longer.
Is it any wonder that the US is hated in huge swaths of the Gulf region? So much for George Washington’s ideal of being a beacon of liberty to the world. To many, the US is nothing but a torrent of helicopter gunships unleashing Hell on retreating soldiers and innocent civilians. This is not only a repudiation of America’s founding principles; it is a flagrant violation of every rule of warfare agreed upon by every civilized country from the Middle Ages to the present day. This is the behavior of a murderous rogue state, not an indispensable nation.
And who is the two-star, now four-star, general responsible for the war crimes? None other than Clinton drug czar Barry McCaffrey, the man charged with using government power to keep drugs from besotting American society. It is an interesting change of jobs: from one hot war to another. Just as he was careless with the rules of war during battle, he has been careless with liberties in the drug war. And just as the Iraq war did not achieve its objective of ousting Saddam, but has resulted in the deaths of millions of civilians, the drug war has not achieved its objective, but has resulted in the jailing and looting of innocents.
The lasting effect of the Gulf war has been to spread disease and death all over Iraq via a cruel policy of sanctions punctuated by periodic bombings. The final domestic effect was to prop up military spending at home at a time when it should have and could have been cut. "It’s still a dangerous world out there," we are constantly told, so we need the firepower to blow away retreating soldiers anytime we wish. Then there’s the Oklahoma bombing: Timothy McVeigh learned how to devalue life during his stint as a tank operator in the Iraq war.
But here’s what really interests me. This is only the latest report of lies. For ten years, we’ve had streams of reports that together show that the US lied about nearly every aspect of that war. We were told about the effectiveness of US "smart" bombs, when in fact most didn’t work or didn’t hit their targets. We were told that civilians weren’t targeted, when they were. We were told that Iraq had nukes but none have been found. We were told that Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was a surprise, but it turned out the US had effectively given the go ahead.
And it’s not only the Iraq war. The same pattern repeats itself on Kosovo. A recent report from Newsweek showed that the US did very little damage to the Serbian military and instead smashed the civilian sector (another war crime). Other reports have shown that US atrocity stories were trumped up, that the mass graves were mostly filled with Serbs whom we declared to be the enemy, that the most dangerous element in the postwar period has proven to be the KLA — our ally in the war.
Again and again, the truth about US wars has turned out to be exactly the opposite of Pentagon press releases. And yet, these credible revisionist accounts don’t make interesting reading for the masses. The American public long ago lost interest in Iraq and Kosovo. Once the propaganda engines were turned off, most people stopped paying attention. Hence, the version of events that continues to survive in the popular mind is one of a heroic and spotless US laying waste to a demonic enemy.
If we were to develop an axiom about war informed by the last several, it would be this: believe nothing (nothing!) that the government tells you while the war is going on. Assume that it is all a lie, that the enemy is not nearly as evil as the Pentagon says, and that the US is behaving a darn-sight worse than the evening news claims. Go ahead and believe the worst about the US while the battle is going on and, ten years hence, you won’t be far off the mark.
That the US is lying after the war must also be presumed. But the tendency is exactly the opposite. During and after war, government controls the news. The media echo government reports because those are the only kind of reports there are, because they know that any questioning of the Official Line of the day will lead to a loss of access, and because they are fundamentally pro-state.
Of course there will always be debunkers during war, a handful of people who will say outrageous things like: "Mass graves? I don’t believe it"; "Milosevic is no Hitler"; "The Kosovars are ruled by a criminal band of drug runners." During the war, these debunkers are denounced as unpatriotic and told to produce their sources. But sometimes they cannot. They doubt the Official Line because they have developed an instinct for spotting the wartime lie.
The evidence to back their claims only starts pouring in a year and ten years after discussion about the war has been closed down. Fair? Certainly not. But it is the reality. And tragically, the feds can count on this holding true for any war they start.
There is, however, something that can be done about it. Hold McCaffrey responsible for the massacre, and don’t let the man who employs him off the hook either. Bone up on past wars and acquaint yourself with the lies and the new truths about those wars. Stand up for journalists who dare to stand up to the power elite; Lord knows it doesn’t happen very often. Examine the history of warfare to understand how the state uses it to destroy liberty.
And when the next war breaks out, prepare to discount every bit of information you hear about it. Read Antiwar.com. Speak out on behalf of writers and commentators who take an independent stand. Oppose US military intervention in any foreign conflict. Above all, ascribe no decent motives to the federal government. Always and everywhere, it is the enemy of truth.