Category Archives: Iraq

The Planet Cannot Begin to Heal Until We Rip the Mask off the West’s War Machine

Making political sense of the world can be tricky unless one understands the role of the state in capitalist societies. The state is not primarily there to represent voters or uphold democratic rights and values; it is a vehicle for facilitating and legitimating the concentration of wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands.

In a recent post, I wrote about “externalities” – the ability of companies to offset the true costs inherent in the production process. The burden of these costs are covertly shifted on to wider society: that is, on to you and me. Or on to those far from view, in foreign lands. Or on to future generations. Externalising costs means that profits can be maximised for the wealth elite in the here and now.

Our own societies must deal with the externalised costs of industries ranging from tobacco and alcohol to chemicals and vehicles. Societies abroad must deal with the costs of the bombs dropped by our “defence” industries. And future generations will have to deal with the lethal costs incurred by corporations that for decades have been allowed to pump out their waste products into every corner of the globe.

Divine right to rule

In the past, the job of the corporate media was to shield those externalities from public view. More recently, as the costs have become impossible to ignore, especially with the climate crisis looming, the media’s role has changed. Its central task now is to obscure corporate responsibility for these externalities. That is hardly surprising. After all, the corporate media’s profits depend on externalising costs too, as well as hiding the externalised costs of their parent companies, their billionaire owners and their advertisers.

Once, monarchs rewarded the clerical class for persuading, through the doctrine of divine right, their subjects to passively submit to exploitation. Today, “mainstream” media are there to persuade us that capitalism, the profit motive, the accumulation of ever greater wealth by elites, and externalities destroying the planet are the natural order of things, that this is the best economic system imaginable.

Most of us are now so propagandised by the media that we can barely imagine a functioning world without capitalism. Our minds are primed to imagine, in the absence of capitalism, an immediate lurch back to Soviet-style bread queues or an evolutionary reversal to cave-dwelling. Those thoughts paralyse us, making us unable to contemplate what might be wrong or inherently unsustainable about how we live right now, or to imagine the suicidal future we are hurtling towards.

Lifeblood of empire

There is a reason that, as we rush lemming-like towards the cliff-edge, urged on by a capitalism that cannot operate at the level of sustainability or even of sanity, the push towards intensified war grows. Wars are the life blood of the corporate empire headquartered in the United States.

US imperialism is no different from earlier imperialisms in its aims or methods. But in late-stage capitalism, wealth and power are hugely concentrated. Technologies have reached a pinnacle of advancement. Disinformation and propaganda are sophisticated to an unprecedented degree. Surveillance is intrusive and aggressive, if well concealed. Capitalism’s destructive potential is unlimited. But even so, war’s appeal is not diminished.

As ever, wars allow for the capture and control of resources. Fossil fuels promise future growth, even if of the short-term, unsustainable kind.

Wars require the state to invest its money in the horrendously expensive and destructive products of the “defence” industries, from fighter planes to bombs, justifying the transfer of yet more public resources into private hands.

The lobbies associated with these “defence” industries have every incentive to push for aggressive foreign (and domestic) policies to justify more investment, greater expansion of “defensive” capabilities, and the use of weapons on the battlefield so that they need replenishing.

Whether public or covert, wars provide an opportunity to remake poorly defended, resistant societies – such as Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria – in ways that allow for resources to be seized, markets to be expanded and the reach of the corporate elite to be extended.

War is the ultimate growth industry, limited only by our ability to be persuaded of new enemies and new threats.

Fog of war

For the political class, the benefits of war are not simply economic. In a time of environmental collapse, war offers a temporary “Get out of jail” card. During wars, the public is encouraged to assent to new, ever greater sacrifices that allow public wealth to be transferred to the elite. War is the corporate world’s ultimate Ponzi scheme.

The “fog of war” does not just describe the difficulty of knowing what is happening in the immediate heat of battle. It is also the fear, generated by claims of an existential threat, that sets aside normal thinking, normal caution, normal scepticism. It is the invoking of a phantasmagorical enemy towards which public resentments can be directed, shielding from view the real culprits – the corporations and their political cronies at home.

The “fog of war” engineers the disruption of established systems of control and protocol to cope with the national emergency, shrouding and rationalising the accumulation by corporations of more wealth and power and the further capture of organs of the state. It is the licence provided for “exceptional” changes to the rules that quickly become normalised. It is the disinformation that passes for national responsibility and patriotism.

Permanent austerity

All of which explains why Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, has just pledged an extra £16.5 billion in “defence” spending at a time when the UK is struggling to control a pandemic and when, faced by disease, Brexit and a new round of winter floods, the British economy is facing “systemic crisis”, according to a new Cabinet Office report. Figures released this week show the biggest economic contraction in the UK in three centuries.

If the British public is to stomach yet more cuts, to surrender to permanent austerity as the economy tanks, Johnson, ever the populist, knows he needs a good cover story. And that will involve further embellishment of existing, fearmongering narratives about Russia, Iran and China.

To make those narratives plausible, Johnson has to act as if the threats are real, which means massive spending on “defence”. Such expenditure, wholly counter-productive when the current challenge is sustainability, will line the pockets of the very corporations that help Johnson and his pals stay in power, not least by cheerleading him via their media arms.

New salesman needed

The cynical way this works was underscored in a classified 2010 CIA memorandum, known as “Red Cell”, leaked to Wikileaks, as the journalist Glenn Greenwald reminded us this week. The CIA memo addressed the fear in Washington that European publics were demonstrating little appetite for the US-led “war on terror” that followed 9/11. That, in turn, risked limiting the ability of European allies to support the US as it exercised its divine right to wage war.

The memo notes that European support for US wars after 9/11 had chiefly relied on “public apathy” – the fact that Europeans were kept largely ignorant by their own media of what those wars entailed. But with a rising tide of anti-war sentiment, the concern was that this might change. There was an urgent need to further manipulate public opinion more decisively in favour of war.

The US intelligence agency decided its wars needed a facelift. George W Bush, with his Texan, cowboy swagger, had proved a poor salesman. So the CIA turned to identity politics and faux “humanitarianism”, which they believed would play better with European publics.

Part of the solution was to accentuate the suffering of Afghan women to justify war. But the other part was to use President Barack Obama as the face of a new, “caring” approach to war. He had recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – even though he had done nothing for peace, and would go on to expand US wars – very possibly as part of this same effort to reinvent the “war on terror”. Polls showed support for existing wars increased markedly among Europeans when they were reminded that Obama backed these wars.

As Greenwald observes:

Obama’s most important value was in prettifying, marketing and prolonging wars, not ending them. They saw him for what U.S. Presidents really are: instruments to create a brand and image about the U.S. role in the world that can be effectively peddled to both the domestic population in the US and then on the global stage, and specifically to pretend that endless barbaric US wars are really humanitarian projects benevolently designed to help people — the pretext used to justify every war by every country in history.

Obama-style facelift

Once the state is understood as a vehicle for entrenching elite power – and war its most trusted tool for concentrating power – the world becomes far more intelligible. Western economies never stopped being colonial economies, but they were given an Obama-style facelift. War and plunder – even when they masquerade as “defence” or peace – are still the core western mission.

That is why Britons, believing days of empire are long behind them, may have been shocked to learn this week that the UK still operates 145 military bases in 42 countries around the globe, meaning it runs the second largest network of such bases after the US.

Such information is not made available in the UK “mainstream” media, of course. It has to be provided by an “alternative” investigative site, Declassified UK. In that way the vast majority of the British public are left clueless about how their taxes are being used at a time when they are told further belt-tightening is essential.

The UK’s network of bases, many of them in the Middle East, close to the world’s largest oil reserves, are what the much-vaunted “special relationship” with the US amounts to. Those bases are the reason the UK – whoever is prime minister – is never going to say “no” to a demand that Britain join Washington in waging war, as it did in attacking Iraq in 2003, or in aiding attacks on Libya, Syria and Yemen. The UK is not only a satellite of the US empire, it is a lynchpin of the western imperial war economy.

Ideological alchemy

Once that point is appreciated, the need for external enemies – for our own Eurasias and Eastasias – becomes clearer.

Some of those enemies, the minor ones, come and go, as demand dictates. Iraq dominated western attention for two decades. Now it has served its purpose, its killing fields and “terrorist” recruiting grounds have reverted to a mere footnote in the daily news. Likewise, the Libyan bogeyman Muammar Gaddafi was constantly paraded across news pages until he was bayonetted to death. Now the horror story that is today’s chaotic Libya, a corridor for arms-running and people-trafficking, can be safely ignored. For a decade, the entirely unexceptional Arab dictator Bashar Assad, of Syria, has been elevated to the status of a new Hitler, and he will continue to serve in that role for as long as it suits the needs of the western war economy.

Notably, Israel, another lynchpin of the US empire and one that serves as a kind of offshored weapons testing laboratory for the military-industrial complex, has played a vital role in rationalising these wars. Just as saving Afghan women from Middle Eastern patriarchy makes killing Afghans – men, women and children – more palatable to Europeans, so destroying Arab states can be presented as a humanitarian gesture if at the same time it crushes Israel’s enemies, and by extension, through a strange, implied ideological alchemy, the enemies of all Jews.

Quite how opportunistic – and divorced from reality – the western discourse about Israel and the Middle East has become is obvious the moment the relentless concerns about Syria’s Assad are weighed against the casual indifference towards the head-chopping rulers of Saudi Arabia, who for decades have been financing terror groups across the Middle East, including the jihadists in Syria.

During that time, Israel has covertly allied with oil-rich Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, because all of them are safely ensconced within the US war machine. Now, with the Palestinians completely sidelined diplomatically, and with all international solidarity with Palestinians browbeaten into silence by antisemitism smears, Israel and the Saudis are gradually going public with their alliance, like a pair of shy lovers. That included the convenient leak this week of a secret meeting between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.

The west also needs bigger, more menacing and more permanent enemies than Iraq or Syria. Helpfully one kind – nebulous “terrorism” – is the inevitable reaction to western war-making. The more brown people we kill, the more brown people we can justify killing because they carry out, or support, “terrorism” against us. Their hatred for our bombs is an irrationality, a primitivism we must keep stamping out with more bombs.

But concrete, identifiable enemies are needed too. Russia, Iran and China give superficial credence to the war machine’s presentation of itself as a “defence” industry. The UK’s bases around the globe and Boris Johnson’s £16 billion rise in spending on the UK’s war industries only make sense if Britain is under a constant, existential threat. Not just someone with a suspicious backpack on the London Tube, but a sophisticated, fiendish enemy that threatens to invade our lands, to steal resources to which we claim exclusive rights, to destroy our way of life through its masterful manipulation of the internet.

Crushed or tamed

Anyone of significance who questions these narratives that rationalise and perpetuate war is the enemy too. Current political and legal dramas in the US and UK reflect the perceived threat such actors pose to the war machine. They must either be crushed or tamed into subservience.

Trump was initially just such a figure that needed breaking in. The CIA and other intelligence agencies assisted in the organised opposition to Trump – helping to fuel the evidence-free Russiagate “scandal” – not because he was an awful human being or had authoritarian tendencies, but for two more specific reasons.

First, Trump’s political impulses, expressed in the early stages of his presidential campaign, were to withdraw from the very wars the US empire depends on. Despite open disdain for him from most of the media, he was criticised more often for failing to prosecute wars enthusiastically enough rather than for being too hawkish. And second, even as his isolationist impulses were largely subdued after the 2016 election by the permanent bureaucracy and his own officials, Trump proved to be an even more disastrous salesman for war than George W Bush. Trump made war look and sound exactly as it is, rather than packaging it as “intervention” intended to help women and people of colour.

But Trump’s amateurish isolationism paled in comparison to two far bigger threats to the war machine that emerged over the past decade. One was the danger – in our newly interconnected, digital world – of information leaks that risked stripping away the mask of US democracy, of the “shining city on the hill”, to reveal the tawdry reality underneath.

Julian Assange and his Wikileaks project proved just such a danger. The most memorable leak – at least as far as the general public was concerned – occurred in 2010, with publication of a classified video, titled Collateral Murder, showing a US air crew joking and celebrating as they murdered civilians far below in the streets of Baghdad. It gave a small taste of why western “humanitarianism” might prove so unpopular with those to whom we were busy supposedly bringing “democracy”.

The threat posed by Assange’s new transparency project was recognised instantly by US officials.

Exhibiting a carefully honed naivety, the political and media establishments have sought to uncouple the fact that Assange has spent most of the last decade in various forms of detention, and is currently locked up in a London high-security prison awaiting extradition to the US, from his success in exposing the war machine. Nonetheless, to ensure his incarceration till death in one of its super-max jails, the US empire has had to conflate the accepted definitions of “journalism” and “espionage”, and radically overhaul traditional understandings of the rights enshrined in the First Amendment.

Dress rehearsal for a coup

An equally grave threat to the war machine was posed by the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of Britain’s Labour party. Corbyn presented as exceptional a problem as Assange.

Before Corbyn, Labour had never seriously challenged the UK’s dominant military-industrial complex, even if its support for war back in the 1960s and 1970s was often tempered by its then-social democratic politics. It was in this period, at the height of the Cold War, that Labour prime minister Harold Wilson was suspected by British elites of failing to share their anti-Communist and anti-Soviet paranoia, and was therefore viewed as a potential threat to their entrenched privileges.

As a BBC documentary from 2006 notes, Wilson faced the very real prospect of enforced “regime change”, coordinated by the military, the intelligence services and members of the royal family. It culminated in a show of force by the military as they briefly took over Heathrow airport without warning or coordination with Wilson’s government. Marcia Williams, his secretary, called it a “dress rehearsal” for a coup. Wilson resigned unexpectedly soon afterwards, apparently as the pressure started to take its toll.

‘Mutiny’ by the army

Subsequent Labour leaders, most notably Tony Blair, learnt the Wilson lesson: never, ever take on the “defence” establishment. The chief role of the UK is to serve as the US war machine’s attack dog. Defying that allotted role would be political suicide.

By contrast to Wilson, who posed a threat to the British establishment only in its overheated imagination, Corbyn was indeed a real danger to the militaristic status quo.

He was one of the founders of the Stop the War coalition that emerged specifically to challenge the premises of the “war on terror”. He explicitly demanded an end to Israel’s role as a forward base of the imperial war industries. In the face of massive opposition from his own party – and claims he was undermining “national security” – Corbyn urged a public debate about the deterrence claimed by the “defence” establishment for the UK’s Trident nuclear submarine programme, effectively under US control. It was also clear that Corbyn’s socialist agenda, were he ever to reach power, would require redirecting the many billions spent in maintaining the UK’s 145 military bases around the globe back into domestic social programmes.

In an age when the primacy of capitalism goes entirely unquestioned, Corbyn attracted even more immediate hostility from the power establishment than Wilson had. As soon as he was elected Labour leader, Corbyn’s own MPs – still loyal to Blairism – sought to oust him with a failed leadership challenge. If there was any doubt about how the power elite responded to Corbyn becoming head of the opposition, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times newspaper soon offered a platform to an unnamed army general to make clear its concerns.

Weeks after Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, the general warned that the army would take “direct action” using “whatever means possible, fair or foul” to prevent Corbyn exercising power. There would be “mutiny”, he said. “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it.”

Such views about Corbyn were, of course, shared on the other side of the Atlantic. In a leaked recording of a conversation with American-Jewish organisations last year, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state and a former CIA director, spoke of how Corbyn had been made to “run the gauntlet” as a way to ensure he would not be elected prime minister. The military metaphor was telling.

In relation to the danger of Corbyn winning the 2019 election, Pompeo added: “You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.”

This was from the man who said of his time heading the CIA: “We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses.”

Smears and Brexit

After a 2017 election that Labour only narrowly lost, the Corbyn threat was decisively neutralised in the follow-up election two years later, after the Labour leader was floored by a mix of antisemitism slurs and a largely jingoistic Brexit campaign to leave Europe.

Claims that this prominent anti-racism campaigner had overseen a surge of antisemitism in Labour were unsupported by evidence, but the smears – amplified in the media – quickly gained a life of their own. The allegations often bled into broader – and more transparently weaponised – suggestions that Corbyn’s socialist platform and criticisms of capitalism were also antisemitic. (See here, here and here.) But the smears were nevertheless dramatically effective in removing the sheen of idealism that had propelled Corbyn on to the national stage.

By happy coincidence for the power establishment, Brexit also posed a deep political challenge to Corbyn. He was naturally antagonistic to keeping the UK trapped inside a neoliberal European project that, as a semi-detached ally of the US empire, would always eschew socialism. But Corbyn never had control over how the Brexit debate was framed. Helped by the corporate media, Dominic Cummings and Johnson centred that debate on simplistic claims that severing ties with Europe would liberate the UK socially, economically and culturally. But their concealed agenda was very different. An exit from Europe was not intended to liberate Britain but to incorporate it more fully into the US imperial war machine.

Which is one reason that Johnson’s cash-strapped Britain is now promising an extra £16bn on “defence”. The Tory government’s  priorities are to prove both its special usefulness to the imperial project and its ability to continue using war – as well as the unique circumstances of the pandemic – to channel billions from public coffers into the pockets of the establishment.

A Biden makeover

After four years of Trump, the war machine once again desperately needs a makeover. The once-confident, youthful Wikileaks is now less able to peek behind the curtain and listen in to the power establishment’s plans for a new administration under Joe Biden.

We can be sure nonetheless that its priorities are no different from those set out in the CIA memo of 2010. Biden’s cabinet, the media has been excitedly trumpeting, is the most “diverse” ever, with women especially prominent in the incoming foreign policy establishment.

There has been a huge investment by Pentagon officials and Congressional war hawks in pushing for Michèle Flournoy to be appointed as the first female defence secretary. Flournoy, like Biden’s pick for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, has played a central role in prosecuting every US war dating back to the Bill Clinton administration.

The other main contender for the spot is Jeh Johnson, who would become the first black defence secretary. As Biden dithers, his advisers’ assessment will focus on who will be best positioned to sell yet more war to a war-weary public.

The role of the imperial project is to use violence as a tool to capture and funnel ever greater wealth – whether it be resources seized in foreign lands or the communal wealth of domestic western populations – into the pockets of the power establishment, and to exercise that power covertly enough, or at a great enough distance, that no meaningful resistance is provoked.

A strong dose of identity politics may buy a little more time. But the war economy is as unsustainable as everything else our societies are currently founded on. Sooner or later the war machine is going to run out of fuel.

The post The Planet Cannot Begin to Heal Until We Rip the Mask off the West’s War Machine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Total Reset” is Wishful Thinking: The Daunting Task of Reordering US Foreign Policy

A new term has imposed itself on the conversation regarding the impending presidency of US President-elect, Joe Biden: “The Total Reset”. Many headlines have already promised that the Biden Presidency is ready to ‘reset’ US foreign policy across the globe, as if the matter is dependent solely on an American desire and decision.

While a ‘total reset’ is, perhaps, possible in some aspects of US policies – for example, a reversal of the Donald Trump Administration’s decision to abandon the Paris Agreement on climate change – it is highly unlikely that the US can simply reclaim its position in many other geopolitical battles around the globe.

President Trump was often accused of leading an ‘isolationist’ foreign policy, a misleading term that, according to Stephen Wertheim’s Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy, was deliberately coined to silence those who dared challenge the advocates of military adventurism and interventionism in the first half of the twentieth century.

Trump was hardly an ‘isolationist’ in that sense, for he merely invested more in economic warfare than firepower. However, traditional US foreign policy makers felt that an American ‘retreat’ from crucial geopolitical fights, especially in the Middle East, has undermined US influence and emboldened regional and international contenders to fill in the political vacancy resulting from that alleged retreat.

Even if that were true and that a Biden Administration is keen on reclaiming the US position in the Middle East and within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), such a task will not be easy.

It is convenient to assume that US foreign policy is entirely dictated by a single administration. While, indeed, each American president is often affiliated with a particular ‘doctrine’ that serves the purpose of defining him and his presidency, the truth, backed by historical facts, is rather different.

For example, President George W. Bush launched a war on Iraq in 2003, which associated him with the ‘preemptive war’ doctrine. Yet, it was also Bush who ordered the final ‘military surge’ in Iraq as a prelude to a subsequent withdrawal, a process that continued during Barack Obama’s two terms in office and, again, under Trump. In other words, US behavior in Iraq followed a blueprint that, despite the seemingly contradicting rhetoric, was adhered to by different administrations.

In 2012, Obama declared his own version of the ‘total reset’ by announcing the ‘Pivot to Asia’ plan. This seismic move was meant to illustrate a growing belief that America’s real geopolitical challenge lies in the Pacific region, not in the Middle East. Obama’s ‘doctrine’ at the time was, itself, an outcome of burgeoning discourse championed by US foreign policy think-tanks with allegiances to both Democratic and Republican policymakers.

While Trump is often ridiculed for his over-emphasis on China as America’s greatest threat, Obama, too, made the trade war with China a centerpiece in his foreign policy agenda, especially during his second term at the White House. Obama’s frequent visits to Asia and many decisive speeches at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conferences were largely meant to solidify an American-led Asia-Pacific alliance with the single aim of torpedoing China’s perceived military and economic expansionism in the region.

Trump’s economic war on China was, undoubtedly, an American escalation which translated growing frustration among Washington’s elites into practical steps, however hasty and, at times, self-defeating. Still, the anti-China policy was hardly the brainchild of President Trump or his administration.

With that in mind, one wonders how would Biden be able to achieve a ‘total reset’ when US foreign policy is but the total aggregation of previous policies under past administrations? Even if one is to assume that Biden intends to author a whole new doctrine independent from those of his predecessors, such a task is still too daunting.

Indeed, the world is vastly changing, leaving the US with the opportunity to merely renegotiate its positions as a central global power – but, certainly not as the world’s only hegemon.

Just look at the Middle East region of the last few years to appreciate the US dichotomy. What started as a political feud between Turkey and Russia in Syria and almost escalated into an all-out military confrontation, eventually subsided, bringing Ankara and Moscow closer together.

While Turkey has, for years, charted a whole new political course, cautiously walking away from the declining NATO alliance, while looking to create its own zones of influence in Syria, Libya, Eastern Mediterranean and, finally, in the New Caucasus region, Russia too was asserting itself as a global power in these same regions and beyond.

Certainly, Turkey and Russia still stand at different ends of the spectrum regarding various geopolitical conflicts. However, they have learned that they must coordinate to fill the vacuum created by the US-NATO absence. Their cooperation has, indeed, already delivered concrete results and allowed both countries to claim victories by relatively stabilizing the situation in Syria, largely marginalizing NATO in Libya and, finally, achieving a ceasefire in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno Karabakh.

If Biden is to reinsert the US back into these conflicts, his administration will find itself in the position of fighting on multiple fronts, against friends and foes alike.

While it is too early to determine the nature of Biden’s foreign policy doctrine, it behooves the new administration to alter its perception of itself and the world at large, and to understand that sheer military power is no longer a guarantor of political and economic influence.

Instead of advancing such wishful thinking as a ‘total reset’, it is far more practical and beneficial to consider an alternative that is predicated on dialogue and a multilateral approach to political and economic conflicts.

The post "Total Reset" is Wishful Thinking: The Daunting Task of Reordering US Foreign Policy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Robert Fisk: Death Of A “Controversial” Journalist

Robert Fisk, the Independent’s Middle East correspondent, died on 30 October aged 74. In reviewing his life and career, the newspaper for which he worked for more than two decades wrote of their star reporter:

‘Much of what Fisk wrote was controversial…’

As John Pilger noted, in describing Fisk’s journalism as ‘controversial’ the Independent was using a ‘weasel word’.

The Washington Post published a piece titled:

‘Robert Fisk, daring but controversial British war correspondent and author, dies at 74’

Al Jazeera’s piece was subtitled:

‘The Independent newspaper confirms its acclaimed and controversial journalist died following a short illness.’

A piece in Le Monde Diplomatique was titled:

‘La mort de Robert Fisk, grand reporter au Moyen-Orient et personnage controversé’ (Christophe Ayad, Le Monde Diplomatique Online, 4 November 2020)

The trend is clear. When The Times subjected Fisk to one of its full-on hit pieces in April 2018, it wrote: ‘Fisk is no stranger to controversy.’

So why do ‘mainstream’ commentators feel obliged to red-flag Fisk’s journalism with ‘controversial’ in this way, and why is it a ‘weasel word’?

Consider that the likes of the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov and The Times’ David Aaronovitch, and numerous others, will never be described as ‘controversial’, despite their highly controversial, in fact, outrageous, warmongering bias.

Marr is not labelled ‘controversial’ for supporting a ground invasion of Serbia in 1999:

I want to put the Macbeth option: which is that we’re so steeped in blood we should go further. If we really believe Milosevic is this bad, dangerous and destabilising figure we must ratchet this up much further. We should now be saying that we intend to put in ground troops. (Marr, ‘Do we give war a chance?1

Was that ‘controversial’? How about this?

Was it ‘controversial’ for the Guardian to write this of the country that has relentlessly waged war and supported tyranny around the world since 1945:

‘Joe Biden looks to have done enough to win the White House… He will have to reassert America’s role as the global problem-solver.’ (Our emphasis)?

Was it ‘controversial’ for the supposedly impartial global news agency, Associated Press, to write this of the United States:

‘For decades, the U.S. has been an advocate for democracy abroad, using diplomatic pressure and even direct military intervention in the name of spreading the principles of a pluralistic system with a free and fair vote for political leaders’?

An awesome level of gullibility is required to believe that the direct military ‘interventions’ (wars) in oil-rich Iraq and Libya were about spreading pluralistic principles. Whether or not Iraqis have had ‘a free and fair vote’ since 2003 is a matter of complete indifference to Western politics and journalism.

It turns out that the term ‘controversial’ is only applied in corporate media to political writers and leaders deemed ‘controversial’ by elite interests.

This was unwittingly made clear by the big brains at the BBC who noted that Fisk ‘drew controversy for his sharp criticism of the US and Israel, and of Western foreign policy’. If Fisk had drawn ‘controversy’ from China, Iran or North Korea, the ‘weasel word’ would not have appeared in the Beeb’s analysis.

A second piece in the Independent also allowed us to read between the letters that make up ‘controversial’:

‘Often writing and speaking of his pity for the people he saw being killed at the same time as becoming a forthright critic of the US and Israel. His writing could be controversial – such as his later reporting on Syria…’ (Our emphasis)

Fisk is not alone, of course. The BBC controversially echoed numerous other media in describing Hugo Chavez as ‘Venezuela’s… controversial president’.

If Chavez was ‘controversial’, which national leader is not? Should they all be described as ‘controversial’? By the way, Biden very controversially described Chavez’ successor Nicolas Maduro as a ‘tyrant’, adding:

‘I was among the first Democratic foreign policy voices to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader and to call for Maduro to resign.’ (See here for more on Biden’s grim record.)

As we have discussed, these were deeply embarrassing propaganda claims in pursuit of regime change. Even the BBC was eventually forced to give up the pretence that Guaidó was ‘interim leader’, reverting to the title ‘opposition leader’.

Although Obama bombed seven Muslim countries from 2009 to 2017, all but destroying Libya, the BBC would, of course, never refer to ‘America’s controversial president, Barack Obama’, or even to ‘America’s controversial president, George W. Bush’. Specific Bush policies might be described as ‘controversial’, but the term would never be applied as a broad brush description of who he is.

In corporate media newspeak, ‘controversial’ can actually be translated as ‘offensive to power’. The term is intended as a scare word to warn readers that the labelled person is ‘dodgy’, ‘suspect’: ‘Handle with care!’ The journalist is also signalling to his or her editors and other colleagues: ‘I’m not one of “them”!’

The same effect can be achieved by praising establishment figures. Peter Oborne did not cover himself in glory by tweeting:

‘Tony Blair has emerged as probably the most authoritative and persuasive voice during the Covid crisis.’

As we noted:

‘If it was some other leader of some other country who had waged an illegal war of aggression killing one million people, Oborne might not have sent this.’

Journalists and leaders who serve power, including ‘Teflon Tony’, somehow retain fundamental ‘respectability’, are welcomed by elite media and the powers that be. (For completists interested in this subliminal misuse of language, the same use is made of the term ‘narcissist’: Julian Assange, Russell Brand, George Galloway, Glenn Greenwald, Seumas Milne, John Pilger, Edward Snowden, Hugo Chavez, and – alas! – us at Media Lens, have all been repeatedly accused of ‘narcissism’. Recently, Andrew Rawnsley wrote of the almost comically humble and selfless Jeremy Corbyn:

‘Many things have been said about his character over the years, but one thing has not been said enough: he is a narcissist.’

An unwitting, backhanded compliment from the Observer’s great warmonger. (See our book Propaganda Blitz for more discussion on ‘narcissism’, Pluto Press, 2018, pp.54-55)

‘How Do They Get Away With These Lies?

In 2004, at a time when all of US-UK journalism was celebrating the ‘transfer of sovereignty’ from the forces still occupying Iraq and stealing its oil, Fisk was a rare voice mocking the charade:

‘Alice in Wonderland could not have improved on this. The looking-glass reflects all the way from Baghdad to Washington… Those of us who put quotation marks around “liberation” in 2003 should now put quotation marks around “sovereignty”.’2

In 2014, after Tony Blair made one of his frequent attempts to exonerate himself in relation to Iraq while calling for more violence to bomb Syria better, the Guardian editors performed painful contortions in declaring Blair’s analysis ‘thoughtful’ if ‘wrong-headed’. Fisk’s response to Blair was different:

‘How do they get away with these lies?’

Fisk was also a virtual lone ‘mainstream’ voice contesting the US-UK’s audacious, well-funded attempts to re-run their Iraq ‘weapons of mass destruction’ scam in Syria:

‘Washington’s excuse for its new Middle East adventure – that it must arm Assad’s enemies because the Damascus regime has used sarin gas against them – convinces no-one in the Middle East. Final proof of the use of gas by either side in Syria remains almost as nebulous as President George W. Bush’s claim that Saddam’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.’

For this, as the obituaries make unsubtly clear, Fisk was never forgiven.

An obituary in The Times commented on Fisk:

‘While he was an outstandingly poetic writer, he developed an emotional obsession with the plight of the Palestinian people and a visceral dislike of the Israeli government and its allies, especially America. In the jargon of news reporting he “went native”, unable to provide a dispassionate account of events and their context.’3

Given the appalling racism and ethnic cleansing faced by the Palestinian people, the reference to Fisk ‘going native’ was a grotesque observation.

The Times’ noted, of course, that Fisk ‘remained no stranger to controversy’. It asked us to believe that ‘critics poured cold water on Fisk’s writing’, although ‘awards committees did not’. In translation: Fisk was subjected to exactly the kind of ugly propaganda smears from ‘critics’ contained in The Times’ obituary.

The comments are no great surprise, given the honesty with which Fisk described his departure from The Times to join the Independent in 1989:

‘The end came for me when I flew to Dubai in 1988 after the USS Vincennes [a US Navy guided missile cruiser] had shot down an Iranian passenger airliner over the Gulf. Within 24 hours, I had spoken to the British air traffic controllers at Dubai, discovered that US ships had routinely been threatening British Airways airliners, and that the crew of the Vincennes appeared to have panicked. The foreign desk told me the report was up for the page-one splash. I warned them that American “leaks” that the IranAir pilot was trying to suicide-crash his aircraft on to the Vincennes were rubbish. They agreed.

‘Next day, my report appeared with all criticism of the Americans deleted, with all my sources ignored. The Times even carried an editorial suggesting the pilot was indeed a suicider. A subsequent US official report and accounts by US naval officers subsequently proved my dispatch correct. Except that Times readers were not allowed to see it.’

Fisk said that he believed Murdoch did not personally intervene. However:

‘He didn’t need to. He had turned The Times into a tame, pro-Tory, pro-Israeli paper shorn of all editorial independence.’

Echoing virtually every other obituary, the Guardian commented that Fisk ‘tended to absolve the Assad regime of some of the worst crimes credited to it’, which had ‘provoked a backlash, even among his anti-imperialist acolytes’.

It is ironic that the Guardian should highlight Fisk’s supposed tendency to ‘absolve’ Syria of ‘the worst crimes credited to it’. Whistleblowing revelations relating to OPCW and the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, while almost completely ignored by the ‘mainstream’, have overwhelmingly vindicated Fisk and made a nonsense of official claims. See recent comments here from Noam Chomsky, and excellent in-depth analysis here.

The Guardian naturally deployed the ‘weasel word’ in noting ‘all the controversy generated by his later commentary on the evils of western, and specifically US, involvement in the Middle East’. This was followed by a distorted version of ‘balance’:

‘Some of Fisk’s most ardent admirers have suggested that to describe his journalism as controversial is a vulgar slight.’

Some people might think so, but only ‘ardent admirers’, ‘acolytes’ – themselves controversial narcissists.

Who knows where this unsubtle red-flagging of Fisk’s journalism as ‘controversial’ would have ended? The intent behind ‘mainstream’ propaganda, particularly on Fisk’s Syria reporting, has increasingly been to suggest that Fisk was morally tainted; that he got it badly, shamefully wrong. Flitting like barely-glimpsed bats at the back of the readers mind are supposed to be terms like ‘Assad apologist’, ‘genocide denial’. Not Holocaust denial exactly, but a shameful mutation of the same moral blindness.

Another rare, excellent ‘mainstream’ journalist, Patrick Cockburn, dispensed with the herdthink, copycat smears, and captured the truth of a journalist who was ‘a meticulous and highly-informed reporter, one who responded sceptically – and rigorously investigated – the partisan claims of all parties, be they gunmen, army officers or government officials’. Cockburn added:

‘He took nothing for granted and was often openly contemptuous of those who did. He did not invent the old journalist saying “never believe anything until it is officially denied” but he was inclined to agree with its sceptical message. He was suspicious of journalists who cultivated diplomats and “official sources” that could not be named and whose veracity we are invited to take on trust.’

This explains exactly why Fisk was and is viewed as ‘controversial’; a word that did not appear in Cockburn’s summing up.

The Invisible Tweets

A storm had been made to brew around Fisk’s reputation in recent years. But it had not yet reached the Category 5 propaganda hurricane that engulfed Jeremy Corbyn who, like Fisk, ‘drew controversy for his sharp criticism of the US and Israel, and of Western foreign policy’.

Corbyn was not just accused of anti-semitism and Holocaust denial; he was accused of being a de facto Nazi who ‘wants to reopen Auschwitz’. These claims were baseless and insane, but not ‘controversial’.

By contrast, we discovered what is deemed ‘controversial’ on Twitter on November 3. That day, we tried three times to tweet a link to a Red Pepper article by Lynne Segal as she ‘looks back on her experience of 40 years as a party member in [Corbyn’s] constituency’. We tweeted a screenshot of this important passage from Segal’s excellent piece:

‘Right now, along with the many other Jewish activists I know in Islington North, I am simply devastated that this process has climaxed in the suspension of our cherished MP, and former leader. It’s so hard to accept that I must repeat again what every Jewish member I know in Islington North has frequently confirmed and it is we who actually know and regularly meet with Jeremy Corbyn – unlike most of critics. What we can confirm is that as Jews in North Islington we have always felt more than safe, more than welcome, unfailingly supported, in everything we do in the borough, and the Party. As it happens, we often feel this all the more strongly as Jews, knowing that ­– unlike Corbyn – so many who choose to speak in our name completely disrespect our commitment to antisemitism and racism of all kinds in struggles for a better world, including the vital struggle for Palestinian rights.’

We also tweeted a screenshot of this passage:

‘So, let me provide a few pertinent facts. Over the years, Corbyn has had mutually supportive relations with the practising Jewish community in Islington, attending Shabbat dinners with the orthodox Chabad Rabbi, Mendy Korer, and attending numerous other official Jewish events in North London. Against some local resistance, Corbyn promoted the installation of a plaque on a demolished synagogue site in 2015 to celebrate Jewish life in the borough. Unlike most of his critics in Westminster, Corbyn unfailingly turned up to vote for motions addressing anti-Semitism in Parliament, just as he worked tirelessly against racism on every front.’

This is extremely powerful, credible evidence exposing the claims against Corbyn, not just as a sham, but as a monstrous reversal of the truth.

We know what our readers like and we know how they will likely react to our tweets, so we were surprised that the two tweeted screenshots did not immediately pick up a few likes and retweets. In fact, after four hours, they had not been liked or retweeted by anyone. We tried tweeting the screenshots again, and again they received no likes or retweets. We checked with friends and it became clear that while these tweets were visible to us, they had been secretly rendered invisible to everyone else by Twitter without us knowing. Unlike the smears unleashed on Corbyn for five years, our words had been banished because they were deemed ‘controversial’ by a giant, profit-maximising tech corporation. And we are not alone; we discovered that independent journalist Glenn Greenwald had earlier tweeted:

‘I posted this tweet 3 times and all 3 times it just won’t appear in my time-line, allowing nobody to see it. Genuinely confused. Is anyone else experiencing this problem?’

No surprise, Greenwald is also ‘controversial’, having, like Fisk, Corbyn and us, attracted ‘controversy’ ‘for his sharp criticism of the US and Israel, and of Western foreign policy’.

On Twitter, in response to corporate media censoring Donald Trump, science writer Marcus Chown commented:

‘This is what we DESPERATELY need in the UK. We need our media to interrupt speeches by Johnson and others and point out to viewers their lies. Retweet if you would like to seee [sic] this happen.’

If giant, profit-maximising, advertiser-dependent corporate media decide it is their job and right to censor political leaders like Trump and Johnson, they will have no qualms at all about censoring you, us, and everyone else. Is that what we want? What on earth qualifies Big Business as an arbiter of Truth?

  1. The Observer, 18 April 1999.
  2. Fisk, ‘The handover: Restoration of Iraqi sovereignty – or Alice in Wonderland?’ The Independent, 29 June 2004.
  3. Robert Fisk: Obituaries – Trenchant yet lyrical foreign correspondent who interviewed Osama bin Laden three times and was often accused of “going native”, The Times, 3 November 2020.

The post Robert Fisk: Death Of A "Controversial" Journalist first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Ending Regime Change in Bolivia and the World

Bolivian woman votes in October 18 election

Less than a year after the United States and the U.S.-backed Organization of American States (OAS) supported a violent military coup to overthrow the government of Bolivia, the Bolivian people have reelected the Movement for Socialism (MAS) and restored it to power.

In the long history of U.S.-backed “regime changes” in countries around the world, rarely have a people and a country so firmly and democratically repudiated U.S. efforts to dictate how they will be governed. Post-coup interim president Jeanine Añez has reportedly requested 350 U.S. visas for herself and others who may face prosecution in Bolivia for their roles in the coup.

The narrative of a rigged election in 2019 that the U.S. and the OAS peddled to support the coup in Bolivia has been thoroughly debunked. MAS’s support is mainly from indigenous Bolivians in the countryside, so it takes longer for their ballots to be collected and counted than those of the better-off city dwellers who support MAS’s right-wing, neoliberal opponents.

As the votes come in from rural areas, there is a swing to MAS in the vote count. By pretending that this predictable and normal pattern in Bolivia’s election results was evidence of election fraud in 2019, the OAS bears responsibility for unleashing a wave of violence against indigenous MAS supporters that, in the end, has only delegitimized the OAS itself.

It is instructive that the failed U.S.-backed coup in Bolivia has led to a more democratic outcome than U.S. regime change operations that succeeded in removing a government from power. Domestic debates over U.S. foreign policy routinely presume that the U.S. has the right, or even an obligation, to deploy an arsenal of military, economic and political weapons to force political change in countries that resist its imperial dictates.

In practice, this means either full-scale war (as in Iraq and Afghanistan), a coup d’etat (as in Haiti in 2004, Honduras in 2009 and Ukraine in 2014), covert and proxy wars (as in Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen) or punitive economic sanctions (as against Cuba, Iran and Venezuela) — all of which violate the sovereignty of the targeted countries and are therefore illegal under international law.

No matter which instrument of regime change the U.S. has deployed, these U.S. interventions have not made life better for the people of any of those countries, nor countless others in the past. William Blum’s brilliant 1995 book, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, catalogues 55 U.S. regime change operations in 50 years between 1945 and 1995. As Blum’s detailed accounts make clear, most of these operations involved U.S. efforts to remove popularly elected governments from power, as in Bolivia, and often replaced them with U.S.-backed dictatorships: like the Shah of Iran; Mobutu in the Congo; Suharto in Indonesia; and General Pinochet in Chile.

Even when the targeted government is a violent, repressive one, U.S. intervention usually leads to even greater violence. Nineteen years after removing the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the United States has dropped 80,000 bombs and missiles on Afghan fighters and civilians, conducted tens of thousands of “kill or capture” night raids, and the war has killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

In December 2019, the Washington Post published a trove of Pentagon documents revealing that none of this violence is based on a real strategy to bring peace or stability to Afghanistan — it’s all just a brutal kind of “muddling along,” as U.S. General McChrystal put it. Now the U.S.-backed Afghan government is finally in peace talks with the Taliban on a political power-sharing plan to bring an end to this “endless” war, because only a political solution can provide Afghanistan and its people with the viable, peaceful future that decades of war have denied them.

In Libya, it has been nine years since the U.S. and its NATO and Arab monarchist allies launched a proxy war backed by a covert invasion and NATO bombing campaign that led to the horrific sodomy and assassination of Libya’s long time anti-colonial leader, Muammar Gaddafi. That plunged Libya into chaos and civil war between the various proxy forces that the U.S. and its allies armed, trained and worked with to overthrow Gaddafi.

A parliamentary inquiry in the U.K. found that, “a limited intervention to protect civilians drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change by military means,” which led to “political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isil [Islamic State] in north Africa.”

The various Libyan warring factions are now engaged in peace talks aimed at a permanent ceasefire and, according to the UN envoy “holding national elections in the shortest possible timeframe to restore Libya’s sovereignty”—the very sovereignty that the NATO intervention destroyed.

Senator Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy adviser Matthew Duss has called for the next U.S. administration to conduct a comprehensive review of the post-9/11 “War on Terror,” so that we can finally turn the page on this bloody chapter in our history.

Duss wants an independent commission to judge these two decades of war based on “the standards of international humanitarian law that the United States helped to establish after World War II,” which are spelled out in the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. He hopes that this review will “stimulate vigorous public debate about the conditions and legal authorities under which the United States uses military violence.”

Such a review is overdue and badly needed, but it must confront the reality that, from its very beginning, the “War on Terror” was designed to provide cover for a massive escalation of U.S. “regime change” operations against a diverse range of countries, most of which were governed by secular governments that had nothing to do with the rise of Al Qaeda or the crimes of September 11th.

Notes taken by senior policy official Stephen Cambone from a meeting in the still damaged and smoking Pentagon on the afternoon of September 11, 2001 summarized Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s orders to get “…best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time – not only UBL [Osama Bin Laden]… Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

At the cost of horrific military violence and mass casualties, the resulting global reign of terror has installed quasi-governments in countries around the world that have proved more corrupt, less legitimate and less able to protect their territory and their people than the governments that U.S. actions removed. Instead of consolidating and expanding U.S. imperial power as intended, these illegal and destructive uses of military, diplomatic and financial coercion have had the opposite effect, leaving the U.S. ever more isolated and impotent in an evolving multipolar world.

Today, the U.S., China and the European Union are roughly equal in the size of their economies and international trade, but even their combined activity accounts for less than half of global economic activity and external trade. No single imperial power economically dominates today’s world as overconfident American leaders hoped to do at the end of the Cold War, nor is it divided by a binary struggle between rival empires as during the Cold War. This is the multipolar world we are already living in, not one that may emerge at some point in the future.

This multipolar world has been moving forward, forging new agreements on our most critical common problems, from nuclear and conventional weapons to the climate crisis to the rights of women and children. The United States’ systematic violations of international law and rejection of multilateral treaties have made it an outlier and a problem, certainly not a leader, as American politicians claim.

Joe Biden talks about restoring American international leadership if he is elected, but that will be easier said than done. The American empire rose to international leadership by harnessing its economic and military power to a rules-based international order in the first half of the 20th century, culminating in the post-World War II rules of international law. But the United States has gradually deteriorated through the Cold War and post-Cold War triumphalism to a flailing, decadent empire that now threatens the world with a doctrine of “might makes right” and “my way or the highway.”

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, much of the world still saw Bush, Cheney and the “War on Terror” as exceptional, rather than a new normal in American policy. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize based on a few speeches and the world’s desperate hopes for a “peace president.” But eight years of Obama, Biden, Terror Tuesdays and Kill Lists followed by four years of Trump, Pence, children in cages and the New Cold War with China have confirmed the world’s worst fears that the dark side of American imperialism seen under Bush and Cheney was no aberration.

Amid America’s botched regime changes and lost wars, the most concrete evidence of its seemingly unshakeable commitment to aggression and militarism is that the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex is still outspending the ten next largest military powers in the world combined, clearly out of all proportion to America’s legitimate defense needs.

So the concrete things we must do if we want peace are to stop bombing and sanctioning our neighbors and trying to overthrow their governments; to withdraw most American troops and close military bases around the world; and to reduce our armed forces and our military budget to what we really need to defend our country, not to wage illegal wars of aggression half-way round the world.

For the sake of people around the world who are building mass movements to overthrow repressive regimes and struggling to construct new models of governing that are not replications of failed neoliberal regimes, we must stop our government — no matter who is in the White House — from trying to impose its will.

Bolivia’s triumph over U.S.-backed regime change is an affirmation of the emerging people-power of our new multipolar world, and the struggle to move the U.S. to a post-imperial future is in the interest of the American people as well. As the late Venezuela leader Hugo Chavez once told a visiting U.S. delegation, “If we work together with oppressed people inside the United States to overcome the empire, we will not only be liberating ourselves, but also the people of Martin Luther King.”

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Assange’s Ninth Day at the Old Bailey: Torture Testimonies, Offers of Pardon and Truth Telling

September 18.  Central Criminal Court, London.

The extradition trial of Julian Assange at the Old Bailey moved into a higher gear today.  Testimonies spanned the importance of classified information in war journalism, the teasing offer of a pardon for Assange by US President Donald Trump, torture inflicted by the US Central Intelligence Agency, the chilling effect of indictments under the Extradition Act and the legacy of the Collateral Murder video.

Hager, war and journalism

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager did some dusting and sprucing of the image of Assange via testimony given on videolink: not the “difficult, awful” individual discussed in standard media outlets, he asserted, but a figure “devoted” to “trying to make the world a better place in an era when there is declining freedom of information in most of the world.”  Hager found Assange “thoughtful, humorous and energetic.”

In his written testimony, Hager speaks to the role of journalism – the sort that matters, in any case – and war.  “It is in general impossible to research and write about war to a useful standard without access to sources that the authorities concerned regard as sensitive and out of bounds – and all the more so with the subject of war crimes.”  Classified information, notably in war, “is essential to allow journalism to perform its roles of informing the public, enabling democratic decision making and deterring wrongdoing.”

Hager managed to crowbar in a contemporary parallel on the importance of releasing the Collateral Murder, depicting the criminal slayings of civilians and journalists in New Baghdad.  The exposure of the incident, and the language used by the helicopter crew (“Look at those dead bastards”) contributed to “world opinion about the misuse of state power” in much the same way the video of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police did to current debate.

The prosecution was in no mood for this more nuanced Assange, sensitive to caution and discretion.  For them, he remains a cold, calculating figure of dangerous idiosyncrasies, who endangered the lives of individuals by publishing unredacted documents.  Hager had understood that WikiLeaks only released the documents once the cables had already found their way onto platforms such as Cryptome, courtesy of the publication of the password to an unencrypted file in a book by Guardian journalists David Leigh an Luke Harding. “WikiLeaks made strenuous efforts to keep it secret, and it was released everywhere first.”

James Lewis QC for the prosecution suggested a corrective: that 154,000 US cables marked “simply protect” had already been published a week earlier.  Hager answered that this account was disputed.  In any case, the nine months between initial publication and the public availability of the unredacted material gave US authorities ample time to protect sources and “warn any informants who could’ve been named.”  The precautionary measures “taken by Julian Assange at the beginning help explain why there was not wholesale damage from those unredacted documents finding their way out.”

Robinson, Trump offers and pardons

The second instalment of the day’s proceedings brought the Trump administration to the fore, notably for the inescapable implication that this entire show is unmistakably and insolubly political.  The defence returned to a statement by Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s ever committed legal advisor, which had already been aired in extradition proceedings held on February 24, 2020.  It covered a purported meeting between ex-congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Trump associate Charles Johnson with Assange and Robinson in August 2017 at the Ecuadorean embassy in London.  The theme: a potential pardon for Assange, with a distinct, thorny catch.

As Robinson’s statement, discussed by Edward Fitzgerald QC at the Woolwich Crown Court in February recalled, “the proposal put forward by Congressman Rohrabacher was that Mr Assange identify the source of the 2016 election publications in return for some kind of pardon, assurance or agreement which would benefit President Trump politically and prevent US indictment and extradition.”

In Robinson’s testimony, Rohrabacher made his embassy visit with Trump’s executive blessing.  Upon his return to Washington, a presidential audience would be granted.  The congressman wished “to resolve the ongoing speculation about Russian involvement” in the publication of the Democratic National Committee disclosures by WikiLeaks in 2016.  Such speculation was proving “damaging to US-Russian relations, that it was reviving old Cold War politics, and it would be in the best interest of the US if the matter could be resolved.”  One way of doing so would be Assange’s yielding of relevant information about the source behind the DNC leaks, something of “interest, value and assistance to the President.”

Assange was not forthcoming, preferring to push Rohrabacher to lobby Trump about the First Amendment implications of any indictment against the publisher.  With the duo leaving empty-handed, the suggestion by the defence is credible: the prospects of an indictment, considered unlikely during the Obama administration, had hardened.  Prosecutor Lewis was blandly dismissive of the entire episode.  “We obviously do not accept the truth of what was said by others.”

El-Masri and Torture

The prosecutors had already made efforts to frustrate the insertion of Khaled el-Masri’s account into proceedings, a telling point given his experiences of torture at the hands of the CIA in 2004.  There was squabbling on the issue whether he be heard live by video or to have his statement read out in court.  “We see no utility whatsoever in having Mr el-Masri in court,” put the prosecution.  This prompted an intervention from Assange: “I will not accept you censoring a torture victim’s statement to this court.”

The prosecution relented to a reading of a summary, with the understanding that it did not stipulate that el-Masri had ever been tortured by the US government.  This was rich, and unpalatable stuff.  El-Masri, a German citizen, had been kidnapped at the Macedonian border, detained and kept incommunicado for 23 days in 2004.  It took the European Court of Human Rights in 2012 to confirm the CIA’s handiwork in torturing el-Masri, holding Macedonia responsible for being complicit and not investigating the case.  There had been no warrant for his arrest; his transfer to the US authorities amounted to “an extra-judicial transfer of persons from one jurisdiction or State to another, for the purposes of detention and interrogation outside the normal legal system, where there was a real risk of torture of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”  At Skopje Airport, el-Masri “was severely beaten by several disguised men dressed in black”, subsequently “stripped and sodomised with an object.”

As el-Masri stated, “I record here my belief that without dedicated and brave exposure of the state secrets in question what happened to me would never have been acknowledged and understood.”  His “exposure of what happened was necessary not just for myself but for law and justice worldwide. My story here is not yet concluded.”

His statement also notes the broader, international dimension of collusion, a point reiterated in court by defence attorney Mark Summers QC.  Only with the publication of the cables by WikiLeaks, notes el-Masri, “did it become clear what pressures had taken pace [sic] beyond Macedonia’s collusion with the US.”  This included the ineffectual issuing of warrants for thirteen CIA operatives issued by a German state prosecutor.  In February 2007, the German Deputy Security Adviser, Rolf Nikel, was warned by the deputy chief of mission to Germany that “the issuance of international arrest warrants would have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship.  He reminded Nikel of the repercussions to US-Italian bilateral relations in the wake of a similar move by Italian authorities last year.”

El-Masri’s treatment, and the importance of the WikiLeaks disclosures in exposing it, have already been noted in the testimony and statement of John Goetz, who worked for Der Spiegel between 2010 and 2011.  The published cables supplied “an explanation about why there were so many difficulties during the investigation.”  It was “only when reading the diplomatic cables that we saw the role the US government was playing behind the scene.” Impediments continued to be put upon a fair and just resolution of the case, including threats by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to sanction those bringing cases before the International Criminal Court.  El-Masri remains imperilled.

Carey Shenkman and the Espionage Act

Carey Shenkman, First Amendment specialist and historian of the Espionage Act of 1917, duly resumed his testimony on the implications of his illuminating, and unsettling overview of the Act’s application.  The prosecution, this time steered by Clair Dobbin, continued to rely upon rulings on the Act suggesting that prosecuting journalists was permissible.  Challenges about its reach had been made and failed.  The jurisprudence on the statute had, over the years, been refined.

Shenkman reminded the prosecution that such cases were marked by the punishment of government sources and insiders, not media representatives.  Suggesting that the jurisprudence on the Act had been “refined” was also a point of demurral, given that “national defence information” had been broadened to include anything government deems sensitive.  He also took issue with Dobbin’s view that prosecutors that shown considered “restraint” when using the Act.  The very fact that an indictment had been issued under its provisions against a journalist, whatever its prospects of success, instilled a “significant chilling effect”, applicable, potentially, to all those reading or retweeting defence information.

Yates, trauma and Collateral Murder

The final part of the day’s proceedings was given over to the witness statement of former Reuters Baghdad bureau chief, Dean Yates.   His subject of torment: the killing of two of his colleagues, Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh, among other civilians, by the crew of the Apache helicopter depicted in the video Collateral Murder.  Their deaths spurred Yates to identify the chain of events.  He submitted a Freedom of Information Act request; it was rejected.  He was shown select portions of the video by the US military, an act of wilful omission.  From the depths of deep confusion he blamed Namir “thinking that the helicopter fired because he had made himself look suspicious and it just erased from my memory the fact that the order to open fire had already been given.”  Assange had sniffed out that the rules of engagement had not been complied with.

Trauma followed.  Feelings of failure in not adequately protecting his staff.  Crushing shame.  Yates opined about the powerful effect of Collateral Murder, the shame it caused the US military, “fully aware that experts believe the shooting of the van was a potential war crime.”  Without the role played by Chelsea Manning and Assange, “Namir and Saeed would have remained forgotten statistics in a war that killed countless human beings, possibly hundreds of thousands of civilians.”  The act of disclosing the grisly encounter of July 12, 2007 was “100 percent an act of truth-telling, exposing to the world what the war in Iraq in fact was and how the US military behaved and lied.”

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Reject Militarism on the Anniversary of 9/11

Nineteen years after more than 3,000 people were killed on 9/11, there remains a bipartisan commitment to fight an endless “war on terrorism,” instigate regime change coups, increase military spending, enhance US nuclear weapons, deport undocumented residents, curtail civil liberties, and militarize the police.

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the US have obscured “The Other 9/11,” the US attack on Chilean democracy in the US-backed coup on September 11, 1973. The two 9/11s are connected by what the CIA calls “blowback.” The CIA first used the term in describing the unintended negative consequences of the US and UK sponsored coup against the democratically-elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. The September 11, 2001 attacks were blowback from decades of US intervention in the Middle East. That doesn’t justify the terrorism, but it does explain it. If we want peace and security for our nation, we should respect the peace and security of other nations.

Contrary to Trump’s lies about ending the endless wars, his administration has escalated the “Long War” in the Middle East and North Africa with increased troop deployments, drone strikes, and Special Operations.

Trump is also morphing the War on Terror abroad into a war against dissent at home. He encourages and uses law enforcement to attack nonviolent protesters, calling them “thugs” and “antifa terrorists.” He encourages white racist vigilante militias that show up armed to menace Black Lives Matter demonstrators and to intimidate local and state governments in armed protests against climate action (Oregon) and COVID-19 public health measures (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Wisconsin).

Trump encourages these actions with statements that amplify paranoid far-right fantasies that call climate change and COVID-19 hoaxes perpetrated by secret elite conspiracies. Trump has instructed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) and Border Patrol to violate immigration laws and subject immigrants and asylum seekers to unspeakable brutality, including separating children from their parents and internment in concentration camps where COVID-19 is running rampant. He stokes racial fears and civil strife to justify authoritarian rule. He calls the news media “fake,” the elections “rigged,” and promotes conspiracy fantasies on Twitter. Trump is sowing confusion and demoralization so people will not be able to resist repression by sections of law enforcement and the racist militias should Trump decide to resist a peaceful transfer of power. The ultimate blowback against US coups and wars abroad against democracy threatens to be a coup against democracy at home.

End the Wars on Terrorism Abroad and Dissent at Home

One of my first steps as President would be to end the wars on “terrorism” abroad and at home. Neither major party calls for ending the endless wars against “terror” abroad even though the top priority in the official National Security Strategy of the United States has changed to “Great Power Competition” with the goal of preventing the emergence of strong regional powers in Eurasia, namely China, Iran, and Russia. This New Cold War, like the War on Terrorism, is about the profits of US-based global corporations abroad, not the security of the people of the United States at home.

The nuclear modernization program initiated under Obama and continued under Trump with bipartisan support has destabilized the nuclear balance of terror and kicked off a new nuclear arms race. The nuclear threat, coupled with inaction by the great powers on the climate emergency and the proliferation of disinformation propagated by state actors on all sides that makes it difficult for publics to come to agreement on what to demand of their governments, has prompted the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move their Doomsday Clock the closest it has ever been to midnight.

I would end the saber rattling against Russia, China, and Iran in the Great Power Competition strategy and focus on diplomacy. We need to partner with other major powers to address our common problems, notably nuclear arms, climate, and cyberwar.

I would also end the bipartisan repression of dissent at home. With Trump’s encouragement, law enforcement is using militaristic tactics to suppress peaceful protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Both major parties are united in suppressing whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and publishers like Julian Assange, whose real crimes in the eyes of the National Security State is that they exposed its secret wrongdoings.

The US should speak out against violations of human rights and democracy wherever they occur, but that should not preclude also working with authoritarian governments to resolve life-or-death global issues like climate change and nuclear arms. War and threats of war are the most powerful destroyers of civil liberties, democracy, and human rights. Military threats, economic sanctions, and covert meddling in the politics of other countries only reinforces the nationalist rationalizations of authoritarian governments for repression at home in order to ward off threats from abroad.

The most powerful way to promote human rights is to set a good example. If the US wants its advocacy of human rights to be credible and effective, it must set the right example at home, where police killings of Black people are seen on social media around the world.  A country where there is mass incarceration in the largest prison system in the history of the world, and from where the US military is deployed in some 800 foreign military bases for its endless wars, making the US the nation that the world’s people consider the biggest threat to peace.

The Other 9/11: Chile

Thirty years before the United States’ 9/11, the CIA orchestrated the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected socialist government of Chile on September 11, 1973.

It is a tragic coincidence of the US bloody intervention history in Latin America that President Salvador Allende was overthrown and pushed to suicide on the same date that decades later would affect US soil by a terrorist attack. The same feelings that American felt of being violated by the first foreign attack since Pearl Harbor were felt in Chile that September 11 in 1973. The sin of Salvador Allende in the eyes of Nixon, Kissinger, and CIA Director Richard Helms was to advance deep socialist reforms that would create a more equal society, a just distribution of incomes, real freedom of expression, and a truly democratic framework that could allow, finally, the participation and voices of all sectors, specially the impoverished workers of Chile.

Sound familiar? These are exactly the challenges that the US faces today, problems that have riddled the US throughout its history and become worse in the Trump era – the authoritarian duopoly of Republicans and Democrats, voter suppression, third party suppression, deep inequality from coast to coast, and chronic poverty. It is the same kind of repression that Chile suffers today under the conservative millionaire Sebastián Piñera when people again advance the same reforms that Allende worked for and paid for with his life. It is the same social, economic, and political oppression that the two countries share on this anniversary of 9/11.

Aid, Not Arms – Make Friends, Not Enemies

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the Green Party of the United States warned against the danger that the two major parties and the corporate media would turn this horrific crime into a rationale for destructive wars abroad and political repression at home.

Instead of treating the 9/11 attackers as criminals to be brought to justice, the US used the attacks as a pretext for a long series of regime change wars in the Middle East and North Africa. The foreign policy leadership of the Bush administration had already written about the need for a “new Pearl Harbor” in order to provide the pretext for an invasion of Iraq to seize its oil fields. They wasted little time in getting started after 9/11.

The Authorization To Use Military Force (AUMF) against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks passed Congress on September 18 with only one dissenting vote. The US invasion of Afghanistan started on October 1. The AUMF legislation is still the legal basis for today’s endless wars.

The Patriot Act, which gave the federal government broad new intrusive surveillance and investigatory powers that weakened civil liberties, was overwhelmingly voted through Congress by October 25.

The Bush administration, joined by the Democratic amen corner led by Senator Joe Biden, lied about weapons of mass destruction and about Iraq’s alleged role in 9/11 to start a second war in Iraq by March 2003.

After 19 years, US combat troops are now engaged in 14 wars. At least 37 million people, and as many as 59 million people, have been displaced by these wars, creating the greatest refugee crisis since World War II.

The annual observation of 9/11 has been turned by politicians into a militaristic celebration of American power that is used to garner public support for US military spending and imperial aggression abroad. Right after 9/11, the world was united in its grief for our country. It was a moment that should have been used to build peace based on mutual cooperation and respect.

Let us remember 9/11 this year by demanding that the US withdraw from its endless wars, prioritize diplomacy to resolve conflicts, end arms sales to belligerents, and provide humanitarian aid for war refugees, including reopening immigration to the US from these countries.

Let’s turn the US into the world’s humanitarian superpower instead of its global military empire. Providing aid instead of arms is the best way to promote peace and security. It is time for the US to make friends instead of enemies.

The post Reject Militarism on the Anniversary of 9/11 first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Canadian Troops in Saudi Arabia a Legacy of Support for Iraq War  

The revelation that Canadian soldiers have been in Saudi Arabia for 17 years highlights Canada’s ties to the repressive monarchy, contribution to the Iraq war and hollowness of Canadian foreign policy mythology.

Recently researcher Anthony Fenton tweeted, “raise your hand if you knew that there was a ‘Detachment’ of Canadian soldiers serving under US auspices operating AWACS spy planes out of a Saudi Arabian air base since the war on Iraq began in 2003 to THE PRESENT DAY.”

The Canadian soldiers stationed at Prince Sultan Air base near Riyadh represent another example of Canada’s military ties to the authoritarian, belligerent monarchy. Canadian naval vessels are engaged in multinational patrols with their Saudi counterparts in the region; Saudi Air Force pilots have trained in Alberta and Saskatchewan; Montreal-based flight simulator company CAE has trained Saudi pilots in numerous locales; Canadian-made rifles and armoured vehicles have been shipped to the monarchy, etc.

According to DND, Canada’s deployment to Saudi Arabia began on February 27, 2003. That’s four weeks before the massive US-led invasion of Iraq. The Canadians stationed in Riyadh were almost certainly dispatched to support the US invasion and occupation.

In another example of Canadian complicity in a war Ottawa ostensibly opposed, it was recently reported that Canadian intelligence agencies hid their disagreement with politicized US intelligence reports on Iraq. According to “Getting it Right: Canadian Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, 2002-2003”, Canada’s intelligence agencies mostly concluded that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, which was the justification Washington gave for invading Iraq. While CSIS delivered a report to their US counterparts claiming Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons capabilities, more serious analyses, reported the Canadian Press, were “classified ‘Canadian Eyes Only’ in order to avoid uncomfortable disagreements with the U.S. intelligence community which would exacerbate the sensitivities affecting relations at the political level.”

As Richard Sanders has detailed, Canada supported the US-led invasion of Iraq in many ways: Dozens of Canadian troops were integrated in US units fighting in Iraq; US warplanes enroute to that country refueled in Newfoundland; Canadian fighter pilots participated in “training” missions in Iraq; Three different Canadian generals oversaw tens of thousands of international troops there; Canadian aid flowed to the country in support of US policy; With Canadian naval vessels leading maritime interdiction efforts off the coast of Iraq, Ottawa had legal opinion suggesting it was technically at war with that country.

As such, some have concluded Canada was the fifth or sixth biggest contributor to the US-led war. But the Jean Chrétien government didn’t do what the Bush administration wanted above all else, which was to publicly endorse the invasion by joining the “coalition of the willing”. This wasn’t because he distrusted pre-war US intelligence or because of any moral principle. Rather, the Liberal government refused to join the “coalition of the willing” because hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets against the war, particularly in Quebec. With the biggest demonstrations taking place in Montréal and Quebecers strongly opposed to the war, the federal government feared that openly endorsing the invasion would boost the sovereignist Parti Québecois vote in the next provincial election.

Over the past 17 years this important, if partial, victory won by antiwar activists has been widely distorted and mythologized. The recent National Film Board documentary High Wire continues the pattern. It purportedly “examines the reasons that Canada declined to take part in the 2003 US-led military mission in Iraq.” But, High Wire all but ignores Canada’s military contribution to the war and the central role popular protest played in the “coalition of the willing” decision, focusing instead on an enlightened leader who simply chose to do the right thing.

The revelation that Canadian troops have been stationed in Saudi Arabia for 17 years highlights our military ties to the Saudi monarchy and warfare in the Middle East. It also contradicts benevolent Canada foreign policy mythology.

The post Canadian Troops in Saudi Arabia a Legacy of Support for Iraq War   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Send in the Clowns for the Circus is in Town

Don’t bother, they’re here, already performing in the center ring under the big top owned and operated by The Umbrella People.

Trump, Biden, Pence, Harris, and their clownish sidekicks, Pompeo, Michelle Obama, et al., are performing daily under the umbrella’s shadowy protection. For The Umbrella People run a three-ring circus, and although their clowns pop out of separate tiny cars and, acting like enemies, squirt each other with water hoses to the audience’s delight, raucous laughter, and serious attentiveness, they are all part of the same show, working for the same bosses.  Sadly, many people think this circus is the real world and that the clowns are not allied pimps serving the interests of their masters, but are real enemies.

The Umbrella People are the moguls who own the showtime studios – some call them the secret government, the deep-state, or the power elite. They run a protection racket, so I like to use a term that emphasizes their method of making sure the sunlight of truth never gets to those huddled under their umbrella. They produce and direct the daily circus that is the American Spectacle, the movie that is meant to entertain and distract the audience from the side show that continues outside the big top, the place where millions of vulnerable people are abused and killed.  And although the sideshow is the real main event, few pay attention since their eyes are fixed on the center ring were the spotlight directs their focus.

The French writer Guy Debord called this The Society of the Spectacle.

For many months now, all eyes have been directed to the Covid-19 propaganda show with Fauci and Gates, and their mainstream corporate media mouthpieces, striking thunderbolts in the storm to scare the unknowing audience into submission so the transformation of the Great Global Reset, led by the World Economic Forum and the International Monetary Fund, can proceed smoothly.

Now hearts are aflutter with excitement to see the war-loving Joe Biden boldly coming forth like Lazarus from the grave to announce his choice of a masked vice-presidential running mate who will echo his pronouncements.

And the star of the big top, the softly coiffured reality television emcee Trump, around whom the spectacle swirls, elicits outraged responses as he plays the part of the comical bad guy.

Punch and Judy indeed.

All the while the corporate mainstream media warn of grim viral milestones, election warnings, storms ahead!  The world as you know it is coming to an end, they remind us daily.

The latter meme contains a hint of truth since not just the world as we know it may be coming to an end, but the world itself, including human life, as the clowns initiate a nuclear holocaust while everyone is being entertained.

Meanwhile, as the circus rolls along, far away and out of mind, shit happens:

With more than 400 military bases equipped with nuclear weapons surrounding China, the United States military continues its encirclement of China and China enters a “state of siege.

The U.S. conducts military exercises with the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group in the contested South China Sea. These U.S “maritime Air defense operation[s]” close to the Chinese mainland are a part of significantly increased U.S. military exercises in the area.

The U.S. Defense Secretary Esper announces that the U.S. is withdrawing troops from Germany but moving them closer to the Russian border to serve as a more effective deterrent against Russia.

Russia says it will regard any ballistic missile aimed at its territory as a nuclear attack and will respond in kind with nuclear weapons.

Although the U.S. is formally not at war with any African country, a new report reveals that the United States has special forces operating in 22 African countries with 29 bases and 6,000 troops, with a huge drone hub in Niger that cost 100 + million to build and is expected to have operating costs of more than $280 billion by 2024.

The U.S. continues its assault on Syria, aside from direct military operations, by building up Kurdish proxies in northeastern Syria to protect the oil fields that they are stealing from the Syrian government, a plan hatched long ago.  The U.S. says their strategy is to deny ISIS a valuable revenue stream.  The same ISIS they used to attack the Syrian government in a war of aggression.

A new document exposes the U.S. plan to overthrow the socialist government of Nicaragua through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a traditional U.S. regime change and CIA front organization.

Meanwhile, in Belarus, a place most Americans can’t find on a map, there is another color “revolution” underway.

Continuing its war against Iran and Venezuela by other means, the Trump administration seizes Iranian tankers carrying fuel to Venezuela.  “Something will happen with Venezuela.  That’s all I can tell you.  Something will be happening with Venezuela,” said Trump in a July interview with Noticias Telemundo.

And, of course, the Palestinians are left to suffer and die as Israel is supported in its despotic policies in the Middle East.

The list goes on and on as the U.S. under Trump continues to wage war by multiple means around the world. But his followers see him as peaceful president because these wars are waged through sanctions, special operations, drones, third parties, etc.

But back in the center ring, the two presidential clown candidates keep the audience entertained, as they shoot water at each other. Trump, who now presides over all the events just listed, and Biden, who enthusiastically supported the American wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etc.

But then the followers of Obama/Biden also see their champions as peaceful leaders.  This is even more absurd.

Don’t you like farce?

Besides being a rabid advocate for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a senator, Biden, as Vice-President under Obama for eight years, seconded and promoted all of Obama’s wars that were wrapped in “humanitarian” propaganda to evade international law and keep his liberal supporters quiet. From Bush II, an outright cowboy war-wager who used America’s large military forces to invade Afghanistan and Iraq under false pretensions – i.e. lies, Obama and his sidekick Biden learned to arm and finance thousands of Islamic jihadists, run by the CIA and U.S. special forces, to do the job in more circumspect ways. They expanded and grew The United States Africa Command (U.S. AFRICOM) throughout Africa. They agreed to a $1 trillion upgrade of U.S nuclear weapons (that continues under Trump). They disarmed their followers, who, in any case, wished to look the other way. Out of sight and out of mind, Obama/Biden continued the “war on terror” with drones, private militias, color revolutions, etc. They waged war on six-seven – who knows how many – countries.

An exception to the more secretive wars was the Obama administration’s openly savage assault on Libya in 2011 under the lies of an imperial moral legitimacy. In order to save you, we will destroy you, which is what they did to Libya, a country still in ruins and chaos.  Their equally blood-thirsty Secretary of State Hillary Clinton let the cat out of the bag when she laughed and gleefully applauded the brutal murder of Libya’s leader Moammar Gaddafi with the words: “We came, we saw, he died.” Yippee!

After Libya was destroyed and so many killed in an illegal and immoral war financed with $2 billion dollars from the America treasury, Joseph Biden bragged that the U.S. didn’t lose a single life and such a war was a “prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward.”

Biden was Obama’s front man on Iraq, the war he voted for in 2003, and wrote an op ed article in 2006 calling for the breakup of the country into three parts, Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish.

When Obama launched 48 cruise missiles and more than ten thousand tons of bombs on Syria in 2016, killing over a hundred civilians, a third of them children, V.P. Biden stood proud and strong in support of the action.

When the U.S. launched the bloody coup in Ukraine in 2014, Biden was, of course, in agreement.

But we are told that Trump and Biden are arch-enemies.  One of them wants war and the other wants peace.

How many Americans will vote for these clowns this year?  They are really front men for The Umbrella People, the money people who use the CIA and other undercover forces to carry out their organized crime activities.

As C.S Lewis said in his preface to The Screwtape Letters:

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint . . .. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump received 129 million votes out of 157 million registered American voters eager to believe that this system is not built on imperial war-making by both parties.

Perhaps that’s a generous assessment. Maybe many of those voters believe in the U.S.A.’s “manifest destiny” to rule the world and wage war in God’s name.  I hope not.  But if so, you can expect a big turnout on November 3, 2020.

In any case, it’s quite a circus, but these clowns aren’t funny.  They are dangerous.

But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns
Don’t bother they’re here

Don’t you like farce?

US: Crimes against Humanity at Home and Abroad

Photo Credit:  Albert Eisenstaedt

This month marks the second year since former President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, announced to the world a campaign promoted by a group of Latin American writers and academics to declare August 9 as International Day of US Crimes against Humanity. Appropriately the day is to remember the second nuclear bomb dropped in 1945 on Nagasaki, Japan that came just three days after the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Imagine how depraved and cold-blooded the then Democratic President Truman could be to find that he had incinerated 150,000 people on one day and turned right around and did it again in Nagasaki instantly killing 65,000 more human beings. US historical accounts love to turn truth on its head by saying how many lives those nuclear bombs saved when Japan was already defeated before the bombs were dropped after 67 Japanese cities had been leveled to the ground by relentless US aerial fire bombings.

The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sacrificed as an exclamation point on a proclamation to the world announcing the arrival of the US as the world’s new pre-eminent super power. It also served as an example that the US would commit any murderous crime of any proportion to maintain that imperial position of dominance and they have demonstrated that to be true time and time again. Even now in decline the US has never apologized for this unnecessary crime because that could convey a sign of weakness and a step back from a policy of nuclear blackmail held over the nations of the world. Obama had the chance to do that in the final year of his presidency when he had nothing to lose in a 2016 visit to Hiroshima. Instead of apologizing to the people of Japan or easing tensions in the world Obama, in eloquent fluffy double talk, said, “Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

The responsibility for the majority of suffering in the world was then, and continues to be, on an imperialist policy and its inherent neoliberal engine that violently throttles the ability of countries to develop in a way that would bring health and prosperity for the benefit of their majorities. In the end it is an unsustainable system that only benefits a sliver of privileged society.

The US crimes against humanity did not begin or end with the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Japan. As militant civil rights leader Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown) pointed out years ago, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” Since its inception the US has been ingrained with a motor force of violent oppression against everyone and every country that stood in the way of its expansion for control of resources and its entitlement to limitless accumulation of vast wealth for a few.

The original thirteen colonies that rebelled against England were not motivated solely by being taxed without representation but more for the restrictions that King George had placed on the unbridled greed of the white settlers to expand and steal the lands of the indigenous nations and communities and to establish a system of slavery which was the main source of capitalist accumulation especially for the southern colonies. At the time of the revolution close to 20% of the population consisted of Black slaves.  Slavery actually ran contrary to British Common Law so the only way the emerging class of landowners in the colonies could flourish was to secede from the British Empire. In doing so it established a pivotal component of the original DNA of the United States; structural racism as a means to justify any level of discrimination and oppression with a deeply embedded belief in the inferiority of any race not white and Christian. The cries of Black Lives Matter in the streets of all the major cities and towns of the US today are a resounding echo of resistance that comes from the plantations and the slave ships that came from Africa.

The genocide of indigenous people in the US was its initial crime wave against humanity as it expanded westward destined by God to exercise their Manifest Destiny. The early history of this country is littered with hundreds of massacres of the original caretakers of the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And that crime continues to this day with Native Americans suffering from the highest infection rates of Covid-19 in the country as a direct result of government neglect and broken treaties that keep the reservations in grinding poverty including in many areas where there is not even running water.

On July 21 Congress passed a $740 billion military appropriations bill, the biggest ever, and $2 billion more than last year. The United States spends more on national defense than the next 11 largest militaries combined.  A well intended but feeble attempt by sections of the Democratic Party to cut 10% of the budget to go to health and human services failed because ultimately funding the 800 US military installations that occupy territory in more than 70 countries around the world takes precedence over something so basic and human as subsidized food programs. Meanwhile approximately 20% of the families in this country are struggling to obtain nutritious food every day just as one example of the growing social and health needs.

Wars and occupations are expensive and that money goes right down the drain. It does not recycle through the economy; rather it is equipment and operations meant to destroy and terrorize, and the only part of it that is reused is the militarization of police forces in the US who are geared out in advanced equipment for the wars at home not even normally seen in theaters of war abroad.

When Obama took over from Bush junior he vowed to end the war in Afghanistan and instead left office with the unique distinction of having had a war going every day of his 8 years in office. He launched airstrikes or military raids in at least seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan and Trump came in and did not miss a beat and has carried the war of death, destruction and destabilization of Afghanistan into its twentieth year. The Pentagon knows that the days of outright winning a war are over and relies now on hybrid wars that are perhaps even more criminal. It is now wars of attrition with proxy and contract armies, aerial bombardment, sabotage of infrastructure that turns into endless wars, the intent of which is to make sure that a country is imbalanced, exhausted and does not become independent or develop and use its resources for the benefit of its own people.

This, of course, is not the only type of criminal warfare in the Empire’s arsenal. Economic sanctions are just as much a crime against humanity as military attacks. No one should ever forget the 10 years of the US orchestrated UN sanctions against Iraq in the 1990’s that were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children.  Primarily through executive order Trump has put some sort of sanctions on around one third of the countries of the world ranging in severity starting with the 60 year old unilateral blockade of Cuba for the crime of insisting on its sovereignty just 90 miles away, to the sanctioning of medicines and food to Venezuela causing the deaths of 40,000 people, the outright stealing of billions of dollars of their assets out of banks, and organizing coup plots against the democratically elected President, Nicolas Maduro.

Now the chickens have come to roost with Trump sending shadowy military units of federal agents into cities like Portland, Seattle and other cities like it was a military invasion of some poor country, barging in uninvited not to bring order and peace but to brutalize, escalate and provoke people in the streets who for months now have been demanding real justice and equality. The combination of the failure of the Trump Administration to confront the pandemic with any sort of will or a national science based plan, the existing economic crisis with its glaring separation of wealth and the endless murdering of people of color as normal police policy has exposed the system like never before. The growing consciousness of a majority of the US population that now seem to be getting that there has to be fundamental change will be the catalyst for real change to happen. It will not come from a government that does not reflect their interests but only through a unity of struggle will we be pointed in a direction that will push US crimes against humanity, at home and abroad, to become a thing of the past.

“A Perpetual Motion Machine Of Killing”

On August 1, a rare in-depth investigative piece appeared on the BBC News website based on credible and serious allegations that UK Special Forces had executed unarmed civilians in Afghanistan. The BBC article was produced in tandem with a report, ‘”Rogue SAS Afghanistan execution squad” exposed by email trail’, published by the Sunday Times.

Special Forces are the UK’s elite specialist troops, encompassing both the SAS (Special Air Service) and the SBS (Special Boat Service). The allegation, by two senior officers, is that there was a ‘deliberate policy’ of British Special Forces illegally killing unarmed men in Afghanistan under the pretext of assassinating Taliban leaders.

The new revelations were based on documents recently released to solicitors Leigh Day as part of an ongoing case at the High Court brought by an Afghan man, Saifullah Ghareb Yar. He says that four members of his family were shot dead in rural Helmand in a ‘night raid’ in the early hours of 16 February 2011.

The UK government claims that the family members were ‘killed in self defence.’ But the newly-released documents contradict this assertion. As the BBC article noted:

‘Just hours after the elite troops had returned to base, other British soldiers were exchanging emails describing the events of that night as the “latest massacre”.’

In other words, this was not the first such case where killings of unarmed civilians by Special Forces had taken place.

Saifullah’s family were asleep at 1am when they woke suddenly to the sound of helicopter rotors, followed by shouting through megaphones. Saifullah was a teenager, caught in the middle of a Special Forces ‘kill or capture’ mission. He told the BBC what happened:

‘My whole body was shaking because of the fear. Everyone was frightened. All the women and children were crying and screaming’.

His hands were tied and he was put in a holding area with the women and children.

The BBC report continued:

‘He had not been there for long when he heard gunfire.

‘After the troops had left, the bodies of his two brothers were discovered in the fields surrounding their home. His cousin had been shot dead in a neighbouring building.

‘Going back into his house, Saifullah found his father, lying face down on the ground.

‘“His head, the forehead area, was shot with many bullets, and his leg was completely broken by the bullets’.”

The official UK Special Forces report on the killings claimed that the British soldiers had been threatened by the Afghan men brandishing weapons. In particular, the official report claimed that after initially securing the compound they went back in to search the rooms with one of the men they had detained. This man, said Special Forces, suddenly reached for a grenade behind a curtain. Their report stated:

‘He poses an immediate threat to life and is engaged with aimed shots. The assault team members take cover. The grenade malfunctions and does not detonate’.

Another of the four Afghan men was killed when told to go into another building to open the curtains, said Special Forces. He supposedly emerged with a rifle and was then shot dead.

The official account of the killings, noted the BBC, was ‘met with suspicion by some in the British military.’ The more detailed article in the Sunday Times includes the disbelieving response of a senior officer reading the Special Forces’ version of events:

‘Basically, for what must be the 10th time in the last two weeks, when they sent [an Afghan man] back into the [building], to open the curtains(??) he re-appeared [sic] with an AK [AK-47 assault rifle].’

An internal army message included a summary of the official Special Forces report and concluded by saying: “You couldn’t MAKE IT UP!”

However, it appeared as though Special Forces had made it up.

The serious allegations in the BBC and Sunday Times articles followed a Panorama programme, ‘War Crimes Scandal Exposed’, last November in the wake of the government’s announcement that investigations into alleged war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan would be closed, before a single soldier had even been prosecuted. Panorama worked with the Sunday Times Insight team, revealing ‘evidence of a pattern of illegal killings by UK Special Forces.’

In the programme, BBC reporter Richard Bilton met UK detectives, formerly of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), who spoke for the first time about how they were prevented from prosecuting soldiers suspected of serious crimes. These detectives believe that the Ministry of Defence and senior military officers were involved in the cover-up of torture and illegal killings. This happened in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

IHAT was set up by the Labour government in 2010. But, as Bilton noted for Panorama:

‘Despite years of work, not a single one of the almost 3,400 allegations against British troops [in Iraq] was prosecuted.’

He continued:

‘Then, in 2017, the Conservative government shut IHAT down. The government claimed it was down to the actions of one solicitor. Phil Shiner ran Public Interest Lawyers, a legal firm that brought over a thousand cases to IHAT. He was struck off following allegations he had paid fixers to find clients in Iraq.’

In her speech to the Conservative party conference that autumn, Prime Minister Theresa May, proclaimed to great applause that:

‘we will never again in any future conflict let those activist left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave, the men and women of our Armed Forces’.

But, as one former IHAT detective told Panorama:

‘It was helpful to close IHAT down, wasn’t it? [ironic tone]. You don’t need an excuse. All you’re going to say is, “Right, everything’s now tainted. We can bin all that. Yippee.” It was a whitewash. Public Interest Lawyers and Phil Shiner – that was used as an excuse to get rid of a lot of jobs and say: “IHAT, you’re finished”.’

As Bilton observed:

‘Phil Shiner broke the rules. But that doesn’t mean all the allegations made by Iraqi civilians were untrue. The detectives we’ve spoken to say IHAT was shut down for political reasons. It was a cover-up.’

He added:

‘IHAT detectives say the government never wanted any soldiers prosecuted, no matter how strong the evidence.’

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, at the same time that the government announced IHAT would be shut down, it also decided to end an investigation, Operation Northmoor, into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

Bilton:

‘Northmoor’s team of detectives had been investigating allegations of executions by British Special Forces. They had linked dozens of suspicious killings on night raids. But Northmoor was closed before they even interviewed key Afghan witnesses.’

He added:

‘Some of those killed were undoubtedly members of the Taliban. But the UN has concluded that Coalition forces killed more than 300 innocent civilians.’

This is a shocking statistic. Perhaps the most appalling case Panorama investigated was the brutal killing of four boys in the Helmand village of Loy Bagh in October 2012, shot dead while they were sitting drinking tea. Bilton reported:

‘Detectives discovered Special Forces didn’t tell the truth about the raid. The first military reports failed to disclose British involvement.’

Instead, they attempted to pin the blame on Afghan forces; a common evasive tactic.

‘Detective say UK forces were falsely attributing suspicious deaths to Afghan forces, so British troops wouldn’t be investigated.’

The British soldier who shot the four boys later claimed to UK detectives working for IHAT that he shot two of the boys because they were standing and pointing weapons at him, and he shot at the other two ‘when they appeared out of the shadows’.

But the evidence of bullet holes low down in the room was inconsistent with his account. The boys had been sitting, just as claimed by Afghan witnesses, not standing.

Such clashes with evidence and testimony from the scene of killings fit a pattern of official accounts of raids written up afterwards by UK Special Forces alleging ‘self defence’.  Former intelligence officer Frank Ledwidge told Panorama that the night raids were a ‘perpetual motion machine of killing and capturing’. Former Operation Northmoor detectives believe the case brought by Saifullah Ghareb Yar (see above) is part of a pattern of cover-ups they were investigating. They allege that the British military and the government have covered up numerous murders by closing down IHAT (in Iraq) and Operation Northmoor (in Afghanistan).

Mark Urban, Defender Of The Faith

The new BBC online investigative piece, published on August 1, together with the Panorama programme last November, are rare examples of serious public-interest BBC journalism attempting to hold the UK military and government to account. Will other BBC journalists, with responsibility for ‘defence’ and foreign affairs, pursue the latest revelations regarding the case of four members of Saifullah Ghareb Yar’s family being executed in Helmand province?

Consider, in particular, Mark Urban, diplomatic and defence editor for BBC Newsnight, who has spent years reporting on Iraq and Afghanistan, very much from within a propaganda framework aligned with UK government policies and interests. For example, in a 2015 comment piece in the Evening Standard, Urban was happy to amplify the Cold War narrative spun by former top-ranking UK military officials:

‘Speaking to Britain’s former top military leadership, you find General Shirreff, or former Chief of the General Staff Gen Sir Peter Wall, arguing that Russia is the principal worry. Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, former Director of Special Forces, or General Lord David Richards (former Chief of the Defence Staff) believe the Islamic State is the real game changer. Talk to some of the US military leaders or intelligence people and they are more worried about China.

‘Either way, the ability of countries such as the UK to do something about these emerging threats is limited by the dramatic cuts enacted after the Cold War.’

For Urban, there was no need to insert ‘emerging threats’ in inverted commas; it was simply a given that China and Russia threaten the UK. The possibility that it could be the West that is threatening China and Russia is presumably unthinkable.

As John Pilger writes in a new piece commemorating the victims of the US atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, intended as a show of strength to show the Soviet Union who was the world’s boss:

‘Today, more than 400 American military bases almost encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to South-East Asia, Japan and Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, as one U.S. strategist told me, “the perfect noose”.’

But, as ever for compliant Western propagandists like Urban, the Orwellian framework that ‘we’ are only ‘defending’ ourselves is deeply embedded in establishment-friendly ‘journalism’.

As we have previously noted, Urban is a former defence correspondent at the Independent. He served in the British Army, both as a regular officer for nine months as well as serving four years in the Territorials. He has hosted a series of virtual reality war games on the BBC, Time Commanders, re-enacting key battles. He is also the author of several books:

  • Soviet Land Power (1985)
  • War in Afghanistan (1987)
  • Big Boys’ Rules: The SAS and the secret struggle against the IRA (1992)
  • UK Eyes Alpha: Inside British Intelligence (1996)
  • The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes: The Story of George Scovell (2001)
  • Rifles: Six Years with Wellington’s Legendary Sharpshooters (2003)
  • Generals: Ten British Commanders Who Shaped the World (2005)
  • Fusiliers: Eight Years with the Redcoats in America (2007)
  • Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq (2010)
  • The Tank War: The British Band of Brothers – One Tank Regiment’s World War II (2014)
  • The Edge: Is The Military Dominance Of The West Coming To An End? (2015)
  • The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy (2018)

On August 3, we checked Urban’s Twitter account and noted that he had made only the most cursory reference to the allegations regarding Special Forces in Afghanistan in a reply to someone called Henry Hyde who had flagged them up to him.

‘Yes Henry. It gives a fuller version of allegations previously reported by the paper in relation to a particular squadron of 22 SAS during its tour in Afghan.’

Hyde replied:

‘Highly disturbing stuff.’

Urban did not respond further.

We asked him via Twitter on August 3:

‘Hello Mark @markurban01

You’ve reported on #Afghanistan for @BBCNewsnight over many years.

Why are you not drawing attention to these important allegations of UK Special Forces executing unarmed civilians?’

Urban did not reply. This contrasts with the early years of Media Lens when Urban – as well as other high-profile ‘mainstream’ journalists – would engage in substantive email exchanges with us. In 2007, for example, we critiqued his assertion in a BBC report that US troops were ‘here to help’ in Iraq.  This, of course, was the propaganda line that the US and its allies were desperate to sell to the public following the bloodbath of the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation.

To his credit back then, Urban replied to us, although he disparaged our analysis as being:

‘put together by you sitting at home, sifting current events through a dense filter of ideology.’

The implication was, of course, that Urban – as an ‘impartial’ BBC News correspondent – was subject to no ‘filter of ideology’ at all. Long-term readers may recall Andrew Marr’s similar assertion in the Daily Telegraph back in 2001 that when he joined the BBC as political editor, his ‘Organs of Opinion were formally removed’.

Ironically for Urban, our analysis that had been ‘put together by [us] sitting at home’, was supported in 2007 by a serving British Army officer who had read the exchanges with Urban in our media alerts, and had then written to him. The anonymous officer said that the view that the war had been ‘illegal, immoral and unwinnable’ was ‘the overwhelming feeling of many of my peers’.

As a result of these exchanges involving Media Lens, the British army officer’s views were reported on Newsnight; one of the vanishingly rare occasions in which the ‘mainstream’ media have so much as mentioned us. At that time, the Newsnight editor was Peter Barron, with whom Media Lens had had several polite and respectful email exchanges.

We had a further lengthy exchange with Urban in 2009 following this extraordinary claim about anti-war protesters in his BBC ‘War and Peace’ blog that:

‘it was their hand wringing and magnification of every set back or mis-step that played a key role in undermining the political will to achieve more in southern Iraq.’

As we noted in our reply:

‘You have misunderstood the whole basis of the anti-war protest. The argument is that the invasion was illegal, in fact a classic example of the supreme war crime – the waging of a war of aggression. The Nuremberg trials were clear that it makes not a jot of difference whether such criminality has positive outcomes – the waging of aggressive war is illegal.’

This entirely rational and well-established point, rooted in international justice, was apparently incomprehensible to Urban who replied:

‘Are you comparing British soldiers to Nazis? I cannot see the comparison; either in legal or moral terms.’

This standard ‘mainstream’ resort to ‘moral equivalence’, when the crimes of the West are raised, has been demolished by Noam Chomsky who once told BBC interviewer Tim Sebastian:

‘Moral equivalence is a term of propaganda that was invented to try to prevent us from looking at the acts for which we are responsible… Minimal moral integrity requires that if we think something is wrong when they do it, it’s wrong when we do it.’

In late 2009 and early 2010, the Sunday Times published articles by its reporter Jerome Starkey detailing the killing of eight Afghan schoolboys in a night raid by US-led troops. We wrote two media alerts at the time (here and here), highlighting how a Nato spokesperson had initially denied that schoolchildren had been shot in the head – several of them after first being handcuffed – and then retracting their cover story. Western authorities later offered relatives ‘compensation’ of US$2,000 for each life taken. We noted the dearth of follow-up ‘mainstream’ interest to Starkey’s courageous reporting, including the BBC’s failure to report the allegations fully and responsibly.

Without access to all of Newsnight’s broadcasts during this period, it is not possible to categorically say whether the programme reported much of this, if anything. As the usual correspondent for reporting from Afghanistan, it would most likely have fallen to Mark Urban to cover it.

Following the latest revelations on August 1 on the killing of four of Saifullah Ghareb Yar’s relatives in Helmand (see above), an anodyne piece by Urban appeared on the BBC News website on August 3, blandly titled, ‘Defence Secretary to review SAS Afghanistan emails’. This was later on the same day that we had tweeted him. Arguably, this means he had been too busy to respond; though surely a short reply would have taken him just a few seconds. However, the focus of Urban’s piece was not the shocking execution of unarmed civilians, but on how the revelation of secret emails about Special Forces operations in Afghanistan was:

‘causing recriminations within the Ministry of Defence, with a process starting this week to re-examine how ministers were kept in ignorance of their content.’

The emphasis of his report was the ‘fresh worries’ in the Ministry of Defence about the revelations and the stressful impact on army veterans:

‘The allegations about D Squadron’s tour – each of 22 SAS’s sub-units rotated through Afghanistan in turn for 3-4 months – are not new.

‘They have already been investigated by the Royal Military Police under Operation Northmoor, a prolonged inquiry that ended without any soldiers being charged.

‘Veterans of the regiment have complained about the stress of such prolonged enquiries.’

The piece mentions allegations of ‘a deliberate policy… to engage and kill fighting aged men on target even when they did not pose a threat’, but was shorn of details of the killing of unarmed civilians. This fits a pattern of Urban’s reporting. We have been unable to find anything substantive about the impact of Special Forces’ operations on Afghan and Iraqi civilians in his Twitter timeline, his BBC blog, or anything he has published online or in any newspaper. It is almost impossible to give a definitive set of search results with 100 per cent confidence. But, as an example, if one searches the BBC News website using the search terms “Mark Urban” + “Special Forces” + “civilians” only a handful of results are returned; and nothing of substance in which the emphasis is on civilian victims.

For instance, in a 2011 BBC News website piece by Urban, titled ‘Impact on special forces of Navy Seals helicopter loss’, there was a token mention in the final paragraph of the occasions when ‘Afghans report civilians being killed’. This encapsulates Urban’s propaganda journalism as a whole: overwhelming weight is given to the priorities of the UK establishment and the military, with only passing mention of the destructive impact of UK policy and actions on the victims.

Admittedly, we have not read Urban’s books in the lengthy list above. But would it be at all likely that his reporting in book form would suddenly shift by one hundred and eighty degrees to focus, not on British armed forces, but on their victims?  In a review of Urban’s book, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq, Observer foreign correspondent Jason Burke noted:

‘Few reporters succeed in cultivating any sources within the closed world of the British special forces; Urban has found dozens who have spoken with unprecedented candour.’

Given Mark Urban’s history of ‘cultivating’ sources within British special forces, and his privileged extensive access to UK military and intelligence agencies, how likely is it that he would not have known about the serious allegations of the execution of innocent civilians going back many years? His unwillingness to seriously explore allegations of this kind is hugely significant.

Burke notes that Urban ‘had to battle with the Ministry of Defence’ to have the book published, but then adds:

‘one wonders what reception a work more critical of British special forces’ operations might have received in Whitehall. The author’s personal admiration for the men who constitute his subject is clear. Language veers from the breathless – “Britain’s hand-picked troops”, the “SAS had got its man”– to the soldierly – firefights are “epic”, problems are “aggro”.’

Would the author’s ‘personal admiration’ for these men be so high if he had investigated and reported the many credible accounts of unarmed civilians being killed by Special Forces, followed by cynical attempts at cover-ups aided, if not directed, by senior figures within the Ministry of Defence?

Remarkably, in November 2010, almost one year after the killing of eight schoolchildren by Nato-led forces had been reported by the Sunday Times, Urban had told Newsnight viewers:

‘The biggest mistake of the coalition’s early years here was under-investment in the Afghan forces.’

It takes a particularly ‘dense filter of ideology’, to use Urban’s own words, to devote scant attention to Western crimes in the killing of schoolchildren, and other unarmed civilians, in Afghanistan and Iraq.