By Robert Fisk
April 10, 2004
War Lords to Their Critics: "Just Shut Up"
Bush's War and the Lapdog Press Corps
Just shut up. That's the new foreign policy line of our masters.
When Senator Edward Kennedy dubbed Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam",
US Secretary of State Colin Powell told him to be "a little more restrained
and careful" in his comments. I recall that when the US commenced its
bombing of Afghanistan, the White House spokesman claimed that some journalists
were "asking questions that the American people wouldn't want asked".
Back in the early 1980s, when I reported on the Iranian soldiers on a troop
train to Tehran who were coughing Saddam's mustard gas out of their lungs
in blood and mucus, a Foreign Office official told my then editor on The
Times that my dispatch was "not helpful". In other words, stop
criticising our ally, Saddam.
So maybe the policy has been around for quite a while. When
the occupation authorities deliberately concealed the attacks against US
troops after the start of the Iraq occupation last year, journalists who
investigated this violence were told that they weren't covering the big
picture, that only small areas of Iraq were restive. And there was a lot
of clucking of tongues when a few of us decided to take a close look at
US proconsul Paul Bremer's press laws last year. A whole team of "Coalition
Provisional Authority" lawyers was set up to see how they could legalise
the closure and censorship of Iraqi newspapers that "incited violence".
And whenever we raised questions about it, the CPA spokesman--and its current
attendant lord, Dan Senor, used the same phrase last week--would announce
that "we will not tolerate incitement to violence".
So when Bremer's own closure last week of Muqtada Sadr's silly
little weekly--circulation about a quarter that of the Kent Messenger--incited
the very violence he supposedly wanted to avoid, what did the American High
Commissioner announce? "This will not be tolerated." One of the
paper's major sins was to have condemned Paul Bremer for taking Iraq down
"Saddam's path", an article which Bremer condemned in painstaking
detail in his signed letter--in execrable Arabic--to the editor of the miscreant
Now I'm all against incitement to violence. Just like I'm
against incitement to war by the use of fraudulent claims of weapons of
mass destruction and secret links to al-Qa'ida. Just like I'm against the
use of Saddam's army against Iraqi cities and the use of America's army
against Iraqi cities. For let's remember that some of Muqtada Sadr's dangerous
militiamen fought Saddam in the 1991 insurgency--the one we supported and
then betrayed. Saddam, of course, knew how to deal with resistance. "We
will not tolerate...," he told his commanders. And we all know what
that meant. No, the Americans are not Saddam's army. But the siege of Fallujah
is likely to give that city the heroic status among future generations of
Iraqi Sunnis as Basra--surrounded by Saddam's hordes in 1991--holds among
Iraqi Shias today.
But still, we must shut up. I remember how last autumn the
cabal of right-wing neo-conservatives who urged the Bush administration
into this war suddenly went to ground. What was this so-called neo-conservative
lobby behind Bush and Cheney, a New York Times columnist demanded to know,
these so-called former Likudist supporters of Israel? When one of them,
Richard Perle, turned up on a radio show with me a few weeks ago, he insisted
that things were getting better in Iraq, that we were all en route to a
cracking little democracy in Mesopotamia.
The moment I suggested that this was a massive case of self-delusion,
Perle replied that Fisk had "always been for the maintenance of the
Baathist regime". I got the message. Anyone who condemned this bloody
mess was a secret Baathist, a lover of the dictator and his torturers. Thus
far have the falcons of Washington fallen.
Of course, the "shut-up" principle works both ways.
Back on 16 March 2003, when the world was obsessed with the war that would
break out in Iraq three days later, a tragedy occurred on another battlefield
500 miles west of Baghdad. On that day, an Israeli soldier and his commander
drove a nine-ton Caterpillar bulldozer over a young American peace activist
called Rachel Corrie who was unarmed, clearly visible in a fluorescent jacket
and trying to protect a Palestinian home that the Israelis intended to destroy.
The Caterpillar was part of the regular US aid to Israel. Israel acquitted
its own army of responsibility for Rachel's death--which was taped on video
by her appalled friends--and the Bush administration remained gutlessly
Rachel's grieving mother Cindi has been a picture of dignity.
US citizens, she wrote, "should ask themselves how it is that an unarmed
US citizen can be killed with impunity by a soldier from an allied nation
receiving massive US aid... When three Americans were killed, presumably
by Palestinians, in an explosion on October 15th, 2003 ... the FBI came
within 24 hours to investigate the deaths. After one year, neither the FBI
nor any other US-led team has done anything to investigate the death of
an American killed by an Israeli."
Well, the answer is that Bush and his administration know
how to shut themselves up when it pays them to do so. That's what Condoleezza
Rice initially tried to do when summoned before the 11 September hearings.
And, thanks to the subservience of many members of the White House and Pentagon
press corps, the administration has an easy time. Why, for example, no press
conference questions about Rachel Corrie?
It seems that as long as you say "war on terror",
you are safe from all criticism. For not a single American journalist has
investigated the links between the Israeli army's "rules of engagement"--so
blithely handed over to US forces on Sharon's orders--and the behaviour
of the US military in Iraq. The destruction of houses of "suspects",
the wholesale detention of thousands of Iraqis without trial, the cordoning
off of "hostile" villages with razor wire, the bombardment of
civilian areas by Apache helicopter gunships and tanks on the hunt for "terrorists"
are all part of the Israeli military lexicon.
In besieging cities--when they were taking casualties or the
number of civilians killed was becoming too shameful to sustain--the Israeli
army would call a "unilateral suspension of offensive operations".
They did this 11 times after they surrounded Beirut in 1982. And yesterday,
the American army declared a "unilateral suspension of offensive operations"
Not a word on this mysterious parallel by America's reporters,
no questions about the even more mysterious use of identical language. And
in the coming days, we shall--perhaps--find out how many of the estimated
300 dead of Fallujah were Sunni gunmen and how many were women and children.
Following Israel's rules is going to lead the Americans into the same disaster
those rules have led the Israelis. But I guess we'll shut up about it.
In the end, I suspect, the Iraqis will probably have a greater
say in the US presidential elections than American voters. They will decide
if President Bush loses or wins. The same may apply to Mr Blair. Funny thing,
that a far away people, just 26 million, can change our political history.
As for us, I guess we'll be expected to shut up.
Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent and author of
Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's hot new book,
The Politics of Anti-Semitism.
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