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They Put the Lie to Their Own Propaganda (Read 10743 times)
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They Put the Lie to Their Own Propaganda
Dec 5th, 2003 at 2:08pm
 
An Interview with John Pilger

By ANTHONY ARNOVE

John Pilger is a veteran journalist and documentary filmmaker. In a career that spans more than three decades, he has reported from the scenes of some of the U.S. government's most terrible war crimes--from Vietnam and Southeast Asia, to the frontline states attacked by apartheid South Africa, to Palestine and Iraq in the Middle East.

In his new documentary, Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror, Pilger demolishes the case for going to war on Iraq as it was put forward by George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In particular, Pilger uncovered videotape footage from 2001 of Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice admitting the truth--that Iraq wasn't a military threat and had not developed weapons of mass destruction since the first Gulf War a decade before. The documentary premiered on British television in September. Pilger's most recent book, The New Rulers of the World, is a collection of several essays that was updated and expanded to take up George W. Bush's "war on terror."

Here, Pilger talks about why the U.S. went to war--and why its colonial occupation is in crisis.

Anthony Arnove: In your new documentary, you expose evidence that Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice knew that Iraq was not a threat. Can you describe this evidence?

John Pilger: It' there in their own words. I found some extraordinary archive footage in the middle of looking at hours of the Bush gang's pronouncements, which I used in Breaking the Silence.

In Cairo, Egypt, on February 24, 2001, Powell said: "He [Saddam Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to use conventional power against his neighbors." This, of course, is the very opposite of what Bush and Blair told their respective peoples.

Powell even boasted that it was the U.S. policy of "containment" that had effectively disarmed the Iraqi dictator--again, the opposite of what Bush and Blair said time and again. On May 15, 2001, Powell went further and said that Saddam Hussein had not been able to "build his military back up or to develop weapons of mass destruction" for "the last 10 years." America, he said, had been successful in keeping him "in a box."

Two months later, Condoleezza Rice also described a weak, divided and militarily defenseless Iraq. "Saddam does not control the northern part of his country," she said. "We aim to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt."

So here were two of Bush's most important officials putting the lie to their own subsequent propaganda.

Arnove: Now that the war is over, how does Tony Blair's "dossier" on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program hold up to scrutiny?

Pilger: It's a laughing stock. Part of it was plagiarized from an American student's PhD thesis. Even his spelling mistakes were used, and terms like "opposition groups" were changed to "terrorist groups." This is seriously incompetent lying. The rest of the dossier has been refuted by Blair's senior intelligence officials, even his own chief of staff, in appearances before the Hutton Inquiry.

Arnove: Have you found any information regarding the claim that Iraq was linked to al-Qaeda?

Pilger: None. Indeed, my two best sources for this are the president of the United States and his defense secretary, who within days of each other in September dismissed the very notion that Iraq and al-Qaeda were linked. This is the measure of their cynicism. Lie to the nation and the world, so that a majority of Americans believe you, then quietly refute it. Looking at all the reports, there is no evidence even now that al-Qaeda is in Iraq. They may well be there, but, like the weapons of mass destruction, there is no evidence.

Arnove: What do you think about the Bush administration's claims that the resistance to its occupation of Iraq comes from "foreign terrorists."

Pilger: How ironic it is when American officials speak about "foreign fighters" attacking Americans? It is as if Americans are Iraqis, or that Iraqis don't exist.

As Robert Fisk has pointed out, there are 200,000 foreign fighters in Iraq, and 146,000 wear U.S. uniforms. There may well be other foreign fighters in Iraq. The Anglo-American invasion was an assault on the Arab world, and I would not be surprised to see an ad hoc pan-Arab resistance. The French Resistance was assisted by foreigners, notably the British, and terrible things happened. There is no difference. The propaganda now is aimed at obfuscating the truth of a nationalist resistance.

Like it or not, to many Iraqis, Saddam Hussein embodied a certain nationalism, and the so-called "Saddam remnants" are nationalists. This is such a proud society, and not as divided tribally as some Western commentators would like us to believe.

The occupation does have parallels with Vietnam, but the closest likeness is the Soviet disaster in Afghanistan. And it really hasn't begun in earnest yet. That will happen when the Shia make their move.

I understand that a Shia army is quietly forming; they have a tradition of patience, and they will wait for their moment, just as they did under the Shah in Iran. The occupation and Bush are in deep trouble.

Arnove: Why do you think the corporate media, especially in the U.S., has been so slow to report this evidence of government deceit and distortion?

Pilger: The corporate media is an extension of the state. That is a truism, which is almost never taught at media schools. Look back on the reporting of the McCarthy period; read the papers, listen to the radio archives. With honorable exceptions, there is an uncanny echo of today. For most of his rise, McCarthy's bile was channeled and amplified by the mainstream media.

Even the great Edward R. Murrow waited until 1954 before denouncing McCarthy, who was then beginning to fade. It was only when McCarthy made his off-the-wall accusations that the U.S. military was riddled with communists that he came unstuck, and no thanks to the media.

Now, in the 21st century, the corporate media cried wolf for extremism. Charles Lewis, who heads the Center for Public Integrity and is a former CBS journalist, told me he believed that had the media challenged Bush's deceptions, the invasion might not have happened; it would have been exposed and untenable. I agree.

That's the potential power of journalists to act as an agent of truth and the people, not of propaganda and power. It's time that journalists who are serious about their craft began examining their conscience and stop trying to distort their intellect and moral sense for the sake of the job.

Arnove: If weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaeda were fraudulent justifications for the invasion of Iraq, what do you think was the real motivation?

Pilger: It was about oil, of course, and directly controlling the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, America's proxy, is unreliable these days. The U.S. wanted Iraq, an entire country, as a base, as well as its oil. Read the principal reports that Bush and Dick Cheney saw soon after the inauguration. One Council on Foreign Relations report is striking for the warning it gives, saying, in effect, "Move now and get the oil before it starts to run out, or China grabs it."

The invasion was also what Alexander Haig called "a demonstration war." It demonstrated the sheer rapaciousness of the Bush extremists, and their resolve to impose their brand of capitalism on humanity. It was sending a message: "Watch out. You might be next."

Arnove: What are conditions like for ordinary Iraqis?

Pilger: I can't say what the conditions are personally. But friends there tell me that it is, as one wrote, "a hell we never expected." An institute in Baghdad has done the first credible polling since the invasion, and found that a majority of Iraqis believe the situation, for ordinary people, is worse than under Saddam Hussein.

There are certainly more prisoners--at least 4,000 have been incarcerated, and possibly many more. There is collective punishment, torture, the violation of every international law on the books. Amnesty International reports on this could have been describing any totalitarian state.

Arnove: You recently visited postwar Afghanistan. What can we learn about the occupation of Iraq from the conditions there?

Pilger: We can learn that America has the undisputed capacity to crush weak and mostly defenseless countries, but it has almost no capacity to control them directly thereafter. In Afghanistan, the Americans are holed up in Bagram airbase, which reminds me of the base at Pleiku in Vietnam.

They are surrounded by distrust and hostility, and they have no interest in attempting to construct the kind of colonial situation that allowed the British to control whole populations with only a few troops. I think that the U.S. will be driven out of Iraq, and the implications of that will be as serious for Bush as Vietnam was for President Lyndon Johnson.

Arnove: How do you see the U.S. responding to the current crisis? Do you think that they will try to retake the initiative?

Pilger: America has the material power and firepower, so that is possible. But it would be artificial and short-lived.

Arnove: What do you think should be the main priority for the antiwar movement?

Pilger: Mass direct action, however small. In every small town and on every city block, let there be voices heard and people ready to take all the risks of civil disobedience.

Do on an American stage what the Bolivian people did recently in their small impoverished country, where they toppled a president. Build momentum. Connect with the families of GIs serving in Iraq, or who have been killed and wounded there.

Remember, the antiwar movement is the democratic opposition. Now there is none other. The choices and responsibility are clearer now than at any time in my memory.

#

Anthony Arnove writes for the Socialist Worker, where this interview originally appeared.

Also read:

Bush's cynical Thanksgiving stunt in Iraq
What a hypocrite!
http://www.socialistworker.org/2003-2/478/478_01_Hypocrite.shtml
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Michael Jackson, Bush and Iraq
Reply #1 - Dec 6th, 2003 at 5:13pm
 
"Reality Media"

By SAUL LANDAU

He said "getting the job done," my friend complained, referring to George W. Bush's "determination" to keep a US presence in Iraq. "That pisses me off," he said. "He's never had a real job in his life and he hasn't defined this job. He swore he wouldn't undertake nation building. If he's combating terrorism, he won't finish that job. Or did some speech writers figure out that cliches like that set the stage for this piece of flotsam's re-election bid?"

What do you really think of him, I asked?

"Bush is an insert," he replied, "a reappearing figure in photo ops. He's standing beside Queen Elizabeth, playing dress up in a jump suit on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and hugging a woman whose home has burned down in the California fires. His handlers have spun him as the positive equivalent of Michael Jackson in handcuffs or OJ Simpson driving his Bronco on the LA freeways. The White House manipulators have integrated his media persona--does he have a political one? --into the hideous world of gossip. This has nothing to do with politics. It's meant to distract people from thinking about the world and get them focused on who poked who."

As if to illustrate my friend's thesis, on November 20, ABC Radio News announced it had to interrupt its programming for an "important breaking story." The "live on the scene" reporter spoke with urgency about the intimate details of "Michael Jackson's Gulf Stream Lear jet" landing at the Santa Barbara airport. "Excitement fills the air as the plane taxis toward a hangar where sheriff's department personnel await the arrival of the famous pop singer. They will arrest him on charges of child molestation..."

Meanwhile, in London, another media celebrity, Bush, acknowledged--or dismissed -- the 150,000 plus people who had gathered to protest against him and his policies. Using his childish, elf-like expression, he made short shrift of massive disapproval as he had done previously in February 2003, likening the worldwide protests of millions against the Iraq war to "a focus group."

"The tradition of free speech exercised with enthusiasm is alive and well here in London," he cavalierly announced. "We have that at home too. They now have that right in Baghdad as well."

Evidently, he had not read a November 11, 2003, Reuters story from Iraq. "American soldiers handcuffed and firmly wrapped masking tape around an Iraqi man's mouth after they arrested him for speaking out against occupation troops." The story quotes the US commanding officer on Tahrir Square, the arrest scene that "`this man has been detained for making anti-coalition statements."

Reporters had more immediate tasks than to reveal the dramatic contradiction between what Bush said and the facts. After all, a twelve year old boy had accused Michael Jackson. The enigmatic African American singer with snow white skin had no intention of distracting the public from its citizen duties, or turning upside down reasonable notions of priorities.

"Mind your own business," my father told me a thousand times, meaning that when people had intimate relations in the privacy of their bedrooms--or even the Oval Office--it did not relate to the great decisions of our time. If Jackson broke the law, let him stand trial, but the media acts as if compelled to inject the public vicariously into the sordid sex life of celebrities. By doing so it substitutes the virtual excitement of a TV news event like Jackson or music mogul Phil Specter getting handcuffed, for the world of war and peace where political morons like Bush direct our lives and futures.

Tens of millions of viewers watched and then "discussed" the Jackson episode, as CNN inter cut to Bush in London. In his November 19, Whitehall Palace speech he acknowledged "sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East," and proposed a "forward strategy of freedom."

Before anyone could digest his empty words and figure out they had not ingested one serious sound bite to do with real change in the Middle East politics, the TV image returned to Jackson on his way to custody. Then legal experts offered meaningless one liners while underneath, in writing, the CNN screen affirmed that Bush had again made threats against Syria, Iran, and Arafat. The Rupert Murdoch owned Fox News had even longer Jackson-scandal sequences. Alexander Cockburn well-characterized Murdoch as the tycoon who "offers his target governments a privatized version of a state propaganda service, manipulated without scruple and with no regard for truth. His price takes the form of vast government favors such as tax breaks, regulatory relief, monopoly markets and so forth" (<counterpunch.org>, November 24, 2003).

Thanks to both Fox and CNN, with the other networks following, the public has become habituated to strange juxtapositions, like TV moralists condemning Jackson for his fetish for kids, while words pop on the screen that say Bush has praised the Moroccan king and some oil Sheiks for making minute and mostly superficial steps towards democracy. What relationship does Jackson's Neverland estate have with Bush extolling the virtues of US "allies" like Saudi Arabia and Egypt? What connection does a vindictive Santa Barbara District Attorney's vow to get Jackson have with Bush's platitudes like "working democracies always need time to develop?"

If you can find connections in these discrete morsels of "news," you will have gained eligibility to join the international Sherlock Holmes club of international affairs. This elite association of brainy people can explain linguistic gobbledygook such as: when Bush says has waged a pre-emptive war on terrorism and that this is also "a war for liberty" he really means that he had no reason to wage war (like Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction which it planned to use aggressively or links to the terrorist gang that did the dirty 9/11 deeds).

Jackson distracts the public from focusing on Bush's obvious May 1 gaff when he announced "mission accomplished" and to the President's current dilemma about what to do in Iraq as casualties mount.

In mid November, on the bottom of millions of TV screens on the ever flashing network news shows emerged words about a Gallup poll that discovered that the majority of Iraqi resident opposed the US occupation.

Indeed, Gallup reported that only 5% of Iraqis believe the U.S. invaded their country "to assist the Iraqi people." 43% opined that the purpose of the US-British invasion concerned stealing Iraq's oil. A November 10 CIA memo concluded similar results: most Iraqis see us as occupiers, not liberators. The vast majority think of the Iraqi Governing Council's decisions as "mostly determined by the coalition [US-British]."

As we multi task to obtain the TV news, listening and watching a woman who looks like a movie star but calls herself an "anchor" offer breathy accounts of Michael's alleged love life with minors of his own sex, while speed writing news of the world, we can also sip from our highball, or, if you're Rush (pre-hab) Limbaugh, pop an Oxycontin--just to obtain proper perspective on the world TV news presents.

At the lunch room, chatter revolves around Jackson. Someone relates his case to perhaps actor Robert Blake's murder charges and new details on the Scott Peterson wife killing. Two secretaries talk about the love lives of Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin.

I foolishly asked about my colleagues' reaction to the $400 billion bill to change Medicare and prescription drugs. I got blank stares. I dared not raise the issue of how Bush has privatized Iraqi property and allowed US and other companies from "coalition" states to scoop up Iraqi property. International law supposedly limits the benefits occupying powers can suck from occupied territories. We'll see!

Instead, the people in the lunchroom exchanged intimate details about Jackson's 1993 arrest and subsequent payoff to a 12 year old. "What kind of parent lets his kid hang out with Jackson?" asked one woman. Heads shook in disapproval. "Imagine parents letting their kids do this to collect big bucks," another said.

I didn't dare ask any of the assembled if they understood that US Proconsul in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, had encountered problems finding international insurers to cover the Iraqi properties the United States has decided to privatize. Indeed, the occupation big shots can't figure out how to create a government out of the stooges they appointed to the interim governing counsel, which doesn't govern. Hey, compare the interest in such an issue with the sex lives--vicarious of course--of celebs!

Next month guerrilla fighters in Iraq may vie for headlines with LA Laker guard Kobe Bryant who may stand trial for rape. The President will attend fundraisers for his own re-election and avoid funerals of dead US soldiers who have borne the brunt of Never-Get-Into-A-Fight-Yourself Bush's "bring `em on" taunt to the Iraqi resistance fighters.

Saul Landau is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. For Landau's writing in Spanish visit: www.rprogreso.com. His new book, PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH S KINGDOM, has just been published by Pluto Press. He can be reached at: landau@counterpunch.org

http://www.counterpunch.org/landau12062003.html
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