Category Archives: Iraq

Venezuela Blitz: Tyrants Don’t Have Free Elections

In our new book, we describe a ‘Propaganda Blitz’ as a fast-moving campaign to persuade the public of the need for ‘action’ or ‘intervention’ furthering elite interests. Affecting great moral outrage, corporate media line up to insist that a watershed moment has arrived – something must be done!

A classic propaganda blitz was triggered on January 23, when Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself ‘interim President’. This was presented as dramatic new evidence that the people of Venezuela had finally had enough of Nicolas Maduro’s ‘regime’.

In reporting this news the following day, the BBC website featured a disturbing graphic of a captive with arms tied behind his back being tortured. The caption read:

Inside Venezuela’s secret torture centre

The image linked to a complex interactive piece that allowed readers to explore the torture centre. There was also a long report on the same centre. The interactive report included this statement by a former prisoner, Rosmit Mantilla:

In a country like Venezuela there’s no difference between being in or out of prison. You are equally persecuted and mistreated, and you can die either way.

Venezuela, then, is a giant gulag. The interactive piece had clearly taken a good deal of time and effort to produce – odd that it should appear on the same day that news of Guaidó’s coup attempt was reported. The BBC followed this up with a piece on January 25 openly promoting ‘regime’ change:

Venezuela’s Maduro “could get Amnesty”

Self-declared leader Guaidó also appeals to the powerful army, after receiving foreign backing.

In fact, Guaidó, also received foreign rejection from China, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Syria and Iran. On January 29, the BBC front page headline read:

Venezuela, “living under dictatorship”

The opposition leader tells the BBC President Maduro has abused power, and renews calls for polls.

Echoing the BBC’s ‘amnesty’ front page story, the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall, also talked up the merits of the coup:

It seems clear that Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader, has the backing of many if not most Venezuelans.

A remarkable claim, given that George Ciccariello-Maher reported in The Nation that an opinion poll in Venezuela conducted between January 7-16 had found that 81 per cent of Venezuelans had never heard of Juan Guaidó. But then this is the same Simon Tisdall who wrote in 2011:

The risky western intervention had worked. And Libya was liberated at last.

The Guardian may currently be Guaidó’s greatest UK cheerleader. After the opposition leader gave the paper an exclusive interview, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook tweeted:

Extraordinary even by the Guardian’s standards. Juan Guaido, the CIA’s pick to lead a coup against Venezuela’s govt, gives the paper one of his first interviews – and it simply acts as a conduit for his propaganda. It doesn’t even pretend to be a watchdog’

On February 1, Cook added:

Oh look! Juan Guaido, the figurehead for the CIA’s illegal regime-change operation intended to grab Venezuela’s oil (as John Bolton has publicly conceded), is again presented breathlessly by the Guardian as the country’s saviour’

The BBC continues to administer a daily dose of propaganda. On January 31, the big morning news story was:

Venezuela opposition “speaking to army”

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó says his team has held talks with the army about regime change

As we noted, if a US version of Guaidó made that admission in public, he would soon be paid a visit by Navy Seals, perhaps shot on the spot and dumped at sea, or bundled away to a life on death row for probable later execution.

On February 4, the front page of the BBC website featured a heroic picture of Guaido’s mother kissing her son on the forehead at a protest rally. Sombre, stoic, the saviour’s head appears bowed by the weight of the hopes and expectations of his people (people who, until recently, had no idea who he was and had never voted for him). This was a pure propaganda image. More will certainly follow. We discussed earlier BBC efforts here.

“Tyranny” as a Motive for Corporate Media Concern

The BBC, of course, is not alone in promoting the view that Venezuela is a ‘dictatorship’. The Times offered a typically compassionate ‘view on Venezuelan protests against Maduro’:

Paradise lost – A ruthless dictator has driven his people to the brink.

The reference to ‘paradise lost’ recalled a famously foolish remark on Venezuela made by BBC journalist John Sweeney in the Literary Review in 2013:

The country should be a Saudi Arabia by the sea; instead the oil money has been pissed away by foolish adventurism and unchecked corruption.

Apart from any obvious issues of head-chopping tyranny, the fact is that Saudi Arabia is ‘by the sea’.

The Economist focused on:

How to hasten the demise of Venezuela’s dictatorship

Recognising an interim president instead of Nicolás Maduro is a start.

The Mail on Sunday wrote of the ‘despot of Venezuela’. In the Telegraph, Ross Clark discussed ‘brutal dictatorships like Venezuela and Zimbabwe’. The editors of the Sun appeared to be holding a vigil for the suffering people of Venezuela:

We hope too that Venezuelans finally topple Nicolas Maduro, the crooked hard-left tyrant Corbyn once congratulated, and rebuild their economy.

The Sun’s Westminster correspondent Kate Ferguson reported that John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, was backing ‘the hard-left Venezuelan despot Nicolas Maduro’. The Express wrote of ‘the corrupt regime in Venezuela’.

Writing in The Australian, Walter Russell Mead observed that ‘dictator Nicolas Maduro clings to power’.1

Under the title, ‘Venezuelan spring,’ Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

The latest Venezuelan effort to topple dictator Nicolas Maduro is a pivotal moment in Latin American history…

The Guardian habitually uses the term ‘regime’ to signal the illegitimacy of the Maduro government.

An emotional Minister for Europe, Sir Alan Duncan – who once worked as a trader of oil and refined products, initially with Royal Dutch Shell, and who, in 1989, set up Harcourt Consultants, which advises on oil and gas matters – told Parliament:

The UK and our partners cannot and will not stand by and allow the tyranny of Maduro’s regime to continue. He has caused endless suffering and oppression to millions of his own people…

The people of Venezuela do not need the weasel words of a letter to The Guardian, from assorted Stalinists, Trotskyists, antisemites and, apparently, dead people, and also from members of Labour’s Front Bench. What they need is our solidarity with the legitimate, elected, social democratic president of the National Assembly: interim President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó.

Writing in the Independent, Patrick Cockburn commented in September 2016:

Sir Alan does have a long record of befriending the Gulf monarchies, informing a journalist in July that Saudi Arabia “is not a dictatorship”.

Sir Alan tweeted:

The dictatorial abuses of Nicolás Maduro in #Venezuela have led to the collapse of the rule of law and human misery and degradation.

We replied:

How much human misery and degradation did *you* cause by voting for war on oil-rich Iraq in 2003 and by supporting oil-rich Saudi tyrants attacking famine-stricken Yemen? Your compassion for the people of oil-rich Venezuela is completely and utterly fake.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also tweeted:

We stand with the people of #Venezuela as they seek to build a better life. We cannot ignore the suffering or tyranny taking place in this proud nation. Neither should other countries who care about freedom and prosperity.

Political analyst Charles Shoebridge commented:

Now speaking of “US standing with the people of #Venezuela against tyranny”, when just days ago he was also speaking of the US standing with US allied repressive tyrannies such as UAE Saudi Arabia Bahrain.

Glenn Greenwald made the same point, adding:

I’d have more respect for the foreign policy decrees of US officials if they’d just admit what everyone knows – “we want to change this country’s government to make it better serve our interests” – rather than pretending they give the slightest shit about Freedom & Democracy.

Writing on the Grayzone website, Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal describe how:

Juan Guaidó is the product of a decade-long project overseen by Washington’s elite regime change trainers. While posing as a champion of democracy, he has spent years at the forefront of a violent campaign of destabilization.

Almost entirely overlooked in ‘mainstream’ coverage, the New York Times reported last September:

The Trump administration held secret meetings with rebellious military officers from Venezuela over the last year to discuss their plans to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro, according to American officials and a former Venezuelan military commander who participated in the talks.

Associated Press reported last week:

The coalition of Latin American governments that joined the U.S. in quickly recognizing Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president came together over weeks of secret diplomacy that included whispered messages to activists under constant surveillance and a high-risk foreign trip by the opposition leader challenging President Nicolas Maduro for power, those involved in the talks said.

In mid-December, Guaido quietly traveled to Washington, Colombia and Brazil to brief officials on the opposition’s strategy of mass demonstrations to coincide with Maduro’s expected swearing-in for a second term on Jan. 10 in the face of widespread international condemnation, according to exiled former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, an ally.

Labour MP, Chris Williamson, virtually a lone honest voice on this issue in the UK Parliament, commented:

Donald Trump, who received nearly 3m fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, throws his weight behind a guy [Guaidó] who didn’t even stand in last year’s Venezuelan presidential election and UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, gives Trump his servile support

Williamson was impressively rational in this interview with Going Underground. Sir Alan remains unimpressed, commenting shamefully of Williamson in Parliament:

I’m astonished he’s even been prepared to show his face in this House today.

Lack of Free Elections as a Motive for Corporate Media Concern

As we have seen, the corporate media’s first great reason for opposing Maduro is that he is a ruthless ‘dictator’. This label is credible only if he prevents free elections, which, of course, are intolerable to any self-respecting tyrant.

Again, corporate media are as one in their opinion. The Guardian’s Latin America correspondent, Tom Phillips, writes that Maduro was ‘re-elected last May in a vote widely seen as fraudulent’. The ‘impartiality’ of Phillips’ reporting on Venezuela is clear even from the tweet ‘pinned’ to his Twitter feed:

It is 20 years since Hugo Chávez’s election kicked off his ill-fated Bolivarian dream.

A Guardian editorial noted that Maduro had won a ‘dodgy presidential vote boycotted by the opposition’. The Economist went further: ‘The election he won in May was an up-and-down fraud.’ Ross Clark in the Telegraph:

Opposition politicians have been jailed, while observers in last May’s election reported inflated vote tallies.

The Observer editors opined on January 27:

Nicolás Maduro was re-elected Venezuela’s president last May by fraudulent means, as regional governments and independent observers noted at the time, and his leadership lacks legitimate authority.

Echoing its positions on earlier ‘regime change’ efforts that brought utter catastrophe to Iraq and Libya, the Observer added:

Given this grim record, Venezuela would be well rid of him and the sooner the better. If Maduro truly has the people’s best interests at heart, he should recognise that he has become an obstacle to national renewal – and step aside.

Venezuela needs ‘national renewal’, or ‘modernisation’ in Blairspeak. Like the Guardian, the Observer then insisted that reasonable options ’emphatically do not include US intervention in Venezuela’. Nobody should be fooled by this apparent anti-war sentiment. US media analyst Adam Johnson of FAIR made the point:

I love this thing where nominal leftists run the propaganda ball for bombing a country 99 yards then stop at the one yard and insist they don’t support scoring goals, that they in fact oppose war.

A further prime example of propaganda ball-running was supplied by The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan:

I’m no expert on Venezuela but I’m pretty sure you can think Maduro is a horrible/bad/authoritarian president *and* also think it’s bad for the US to back coups or regime change there.

Beyond the ‘mainstream’, credible voices have argued that last May’s elections were free and fair. Human rights lawyer Daniel Kovalik of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, writing for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, commented:

I just returned from observing my fourth election in Venezuela in less than a year. Jimmy Carter has called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world,” and what I witnessed was an inspiring process that guarantees one person, one vote, and includes multiple auditing procedures to ensure a free and fair election.

I then came home to the United States to see the inevitable “news” coverage referring to Venezuela as a “dictatorship” and as a country in need of saving. This coverage not only ignores the reality of Venezuela, it ignores the fact that the U.S. is the greatest impediment to democracy in Venezuela, just as the U.S. has been an impediment to democracy throughout Latin America since the end of the 19th century.

More than 150 members of the international electoral accompaniment mission for the elections published four independent reports. Their members ‘include politicians, electoral experts, academics, journalists, social movement leaders and others’. The mission’s General Report concluded:

We the international accompaniers consider that the technical and professional trustworthiness and independence of the National Electoral Council of Venezuela are uncontestable.

The Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America, a grouping of electoral technicians from across the continent, many of whom have presided over electoral agencies, commented:

The process was successfully carried out and that the will of the citizens, freely expressed in ballot boxes, was respected…the results communicated by the National Electoral Council reflect the will of the voters who decided to participate in the electoral process.

The African Report:

Our general evaluation is that this was a fair, free, and transparent expression of the human right to vote and participate in the electoral process by the Venezuelan people, and that the results announced on the night of May 20 are trustworthy due to the comprehensive guarantees, audits, the high tech nature of the electoral process, and due to the thirteen audits carried out previous to and on the day of elections which we witnessed.

We can also conclude that the Venezuelan people who chose to participate in the electoral process of May 20 were not subject to any external pressures.

And also the Caribbean Report:

The mission was satisfied that the elections were conducted efficiently in a fair and transparent manner. All of the registered voters who wanted to exercise their right to vote participated in a peaceful and accommodating environment. Based on the process observed, the mission is satisfied that the results of the elections reflect the will of the majority of the voters in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

If all of this has been ignored in the current debate, it is because corporate media, in fact, do not care about free elections in Venezuela.

Consider the elections held in Iraq on January 30, 2005. On the BBC’s main evening news that month, reporter David Willis talked of ‘the first democratic election in fifty years’.2  A Guardian leader referred to ‘the country’s first free election in decades’. The Times, the Financial Times, the Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the Observer, the Independent, the Express, the Mirror, the Sun and numerous other media repeated the same claim hailing Iraq’s great ‘democratic election’.

But this was all nonsense. Iraq was not just under illegal, superpower occupation; invading armies were waging full-scale war against the Iraqi resistance. Just weeks before the election, Fallujah, a city of 300,000 people, was virtually razed to the ground by US-UK forces. Six weeks before the election, the UN reported of the city that, ’70 per cent of the houses and shops were destroyed and those still standing are riddled with bullets.’ A quarter of a million people had been displaced from this one city alone by the onslaught. One year later, The Lancet reported 655,000 excess Iraqi deaths as a result of the 2003 invasion.

There was obviously no question of a free election under these lawless, extremely violent conditions. The corporate press was not the least bit interested or concerned. Indeed, our search of the LexisNexis media database at the time of the elections showed that there had not been a single substantive analysis of the extent of press freedom in Iraq under occupation anywhere in the UK press over the previous six months. And yet the media were all but unanimous in describing the elections as free and fair.

• Part 2 coming soon

  1. Walter Russell Mead, ‘Moscow savours latest Latin American crisis to destabilise region,’ The Australian, 31 January 2019.
  2. Willis, BBC News at Ten, January 10, 2005.

Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion

It’s a messy, though typical picture.  US President Donald Trump wants to pull out forces in Syria.  When announced in December, jaws drooped and sharp intakes of breath were registered through the Washington establishment.  Members of the military industrial complex were none too pleased.  The president had seemingly made his case clear: US blood and treasure will not be further drawn upon to right the conflicts of the Middle East.

His national security advisor, John Bolton, prefers a different message: the US will not leave north-eastern Syria till the militants of Islamic State are defeated and the Kurds protected.  If this was a message of intended confusion, it has worked.  The media vultures are confused as to what carrion to feed upon. The US imperial lobby is finding the whole affair disruptive and disturbing.  Washington’s allies attempt to read the differences between policy-by-tweet and policy by representation.

Trump’s pre-New Year announcement suggested speediness, a rapid removal of US forces supposedly indispensable in Making America Great Again.  Once made, US troops were to leave in a matter of weeks – or so went a certain wisdom.  “They’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” ventured the president.  But Bolton suggested otherwise.  US personnel, he suggested, would remain in al-Tanf to counter Iranian influence.  Timetables could be left to the talking heads.

A change of heart also came from the White House, with Trump asserting that, “We won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.”  To reporters, he adopted a familiar stance in ever shifting sands: promising to do something meant doing something different. “We re pulling back in Syria.  We’re going to be removing our troops.  I never said we’re doing it that quickly.”

On Sunday, Trump delivered another streaky note on Twitter, thereby adding another lace of confusion. “Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions.”  Last Thursday, information on the withdrawal of some US military ground equipment from Syria was noted.  On Friday, Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria, issued a statement claiming that the coalition had “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria” leaving little by way of details.  In Trumpland, the scanty detail often prevails over the substantive.

US strategy in the Middle East has tended to revolve around setting up figures for the fall while inflicting the fall of others.  The Kurds have tended to find themselves in that role, encouraged and prompted to take up arms against their various oppressors, only to find themselves left to the slaughter in the subsequent geopolitical dramas of the region.  The promise by Great Britain and France at the conclusion of World War I that a Kurdish state be chalked out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire never materialised.  In the crude machinations of international relations, they have remained, as Joost Hiltermann describes them, the “expendable” ones.

Bolton is keen not to make that same mistake, which is exactly why he risks doing so.  The great enemy of the Kurds on this occasion remains a prickly US ally, Turkey.  “We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with the agreed to by the United States”.

Trump, similarly, suggested in a direct call with the Turkish president that the Turkish economy would be devastated “economically if they hit Kurds.”  In a statement from White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, “The President expressed the desire to work together to address Turkey’s security concerns in northeast Syria while stressing the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat the Kurds and other Syrian Democratic Forces with whom we have fought to defeat ISIS.”

Bolton’s credibility in pursuing that agenda seemed to crumble in Ankara before a notable snubbing by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on January 8.  The national security advisor had to make do with a meeting with Erdoğan’s senior advisor, Ibrahim Kalin. Bolton was not one the Turkish leader particularly wanted to see in light of his comments that Turkey not harm members of the Kurdish Syrian militias in the aftermath of the US withdrawal.  Such views also fly in the face of Turkey’s self-appointed role as an agent of influence in the region.  An absent Washington is simply too good a chance to press home the advantage, and Ankara is bound to capitalise.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not fare much better in his regional whistle-stops in Egypt Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf states.  In Cairo, Pompeo denied that there was any “contradiction whatsoever” about Trump’s position on withdrawal.  “I think everyone understands what the United States is doing.”  If not everyone, then at the very least, “the senior leaders in their governments”.  Very good of them.

The views of American functionaries have not necessarily meant much in the righteous intent of other powers, but Bolton is nonetheless happy to pen his name to this mast.  He wishes for the Kurds to hold firm, avoid the temptation of seeking another sponsor who just might do a better job.  “I think they know,” suggested Bolton, “who their friends are.”  (Bolt is more than nudging here, making sure the Russians or the Assad regime are avoided in any future security arrangements that might supply a shield for the Kurds.)

Daft, can be Bolton, who sees himself as a true appraiser of the international relations system when he is disabled by presumption.  The Turks may, in time, hand Washington another bloody lesson of retribution showing that basic, keen hatreds in historical dramas are far more significant than sophisticated notions of self-interest.  The presence of US troops in Syria will no doubt be reclassified, withdrawal by which any other name would be as confusing.  The Kurds will have to chew over their options with the sort of caution nursed by a history of promise followed by abandonment.  Be wary of the expendable ones.

The Chickens Come Home to Roost

The fact is, the U.S. interventions in the Middle East since 9/11–especially the illegal, immoral war on Iraq based on lies—has, as regional leaders predicted it would, generally “destabilized” the area, and nearby regions.

The ruination of the Baathist Iraqi state has by this point produced a Sadrist-led regime that must maintain a degree of friendship with the U.S. that ushered in its ascent to power but is closer to Iran and will, defying the U.S., maintain that relationship based in part on religious commonality. This is an awkward situation, in that a regime produced by U.S. imperialist aggression chooses to ally itself with a regime that the U.S. (by bipartisan consensus) wants to topple.

U.S. military aggression in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya has flooded Europe with refugees, provoking multiple political crises and producing gains for the anti-immigrant right. Europeans properly blame the refugee problem on the U.S. and its arrogant imperialist adventures.

Each invasion has produced spinoffs. Al-Zarqawi, driven from Afghanistan, relocated in Iraq, forming a new Al-Qaeda franchise (that became ISIL). The occupation of Iraq led directly to ISIL’s spread into Syria (and the U.S. military’s pursuit). One thing leads to another. The destruction of Libya spread chaos into Niger and Mali and gains for local al-Qaeda and ISIL forces now chased by French and U.S. special forces.

Meanwhile U.S. pressure on Middle East allies to embrace (at least show-window) “democracy”—really a neocon afterthought to lend some bogus moral content to the effort to control the region, to justify the war-based-on-lies—led to electoral victories by Hamas in Palestine (2006), Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (2012), and Hizbollah in Lebanon (2018). These were followed by U.S. efforts to topple the (annoyingly victorious) parties in those democratic exercises (and of course further instability).

U.S. (rhetorical) allegiance to democratic principles may have encouraged the mass rebellions of the “Arab Spring” (2011), during which the Obama administration gave erstwhile allies (like Ali Saleh in Yemen and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt) their marching orders, and (with NATO) destroyed the Libyan state facilitating the grotesque murder of (recent friend) Muammar Gaddafi. And U.S. support for Saudi Arabia—possibly the world’s very worst violator of human rights, although the U.S. corporate press treats it with kid gloves—allowed for the crushing of the Bahraini Shiite mass protests by Saudi-led Sunni forces, and the ongoing Saudi destruction of Yemen.

The U.S. has done absolutely no good in the so-called “Greater Middle East” since its imbecilic leadership in 2001 proclaimed a vague “War on Terror” aimed mainly at Islamist forces seen as terrorists—but open-ended enough to include North Korea (in the stupidly conceptualized “Axis of Evil”), Filipino Maoists, or units of the Iranian military. (By the way, note that the author of that stupid term, Bush speechwriter—now a respected CNN “political news analyst”—David Frum, is a Canadian interfering in the U.S. political process. But nobody cares. Imagine if he were Russian.)

Repeat: absolutely no good. No more good than the Nazis did when they launched their comparable immoral, unjustifiable imperialist invasions. (We should never thank the purveyors of mass murder for their “service” as is the norm, indeed required etiquette on corporate cable news.) All the war on terror and its spin-offs has produced is human misery.

The “War on Terror” label was dropped under Obama, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s latest pronouncements in Cairo indicate that the U.S. retains its drive to destroy “radical Islamism” in the Middle East. He even warned the Lebanese people about voting for Hizbollah, which has many members in parliament and holds posts in the Lebanese cabinet, lest they raise the U.S.’s wrath. Quite likely his crude efforts to meddle in foreign elections will backfire.

And of course in Pompeo’s list of terrorists to destroy is the Iranian leadership, and the Islamic Republic as currently structured. This puts the U.S. in conflict with Europe and the world in general, which wants to have normal relations with Iran and mutually beneficial trade.

Turkey, a close U.S. ally and NATO member—indeed the NATO member with the second largest army within the alliance—is one of these countries wanting normal relations with Iran. The two countries have differences, including in Syria, but are working (with Russia) to reduce those differences through the “Astana Process.” And now Turkey’s differences with its old ally Washington are strained as never before.

The problem is the Kurds and the prospect of an independent Kurdish nation. This was the Turkish concern (that is, the concern of the Turkish ruling class) all along. The current president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, supported the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 (while the Turkish parliament failed to support it)—but only if it allowed for the deployment of Turkish forces in northern Iraq to suppress any prospect of Kurdish independence (that might encourage Turkish Kurds in their drive to acquire independence). He feared that the toppling of Saddam Hussein would, if not coupled with the suppression of any Kurdish independence hopes, threaten Turkey.

The U.S. State Department, to say nothing of the political class in general, was clueless about the distinction between Kurds and Arabs, as it was of the distinction between Shiites and Sunnis, or Turks and Iranians. Now the inevitable has happened. The U.S. in an effort to “destroy” ISIL (Obama’s language) made common cause with the only people in Syria willing to join with its (discredited, hated, exposed, imperialist) self: the Kurdish Peshmergas. It has used them to whittle down the ISIL forces, whose existence is a painful embarrassment to the U.S. since its actions obviously produced it in the first place. But it has wanted to use them ultimately to bring down the Assad government and replace it with a pro-U.S., Israel-friendly puppet regime.

Trump (for whatever reasons, which will probably involve no moral reflection) seems to have given up on the latter ambition. He sounds content to accept an independent Syria enjoying cordial ties to Russia, Iran, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, China, etc. (The U.S. always depicts states targeted for regime change as “isolated” from what they call “the international community” which somehow routinely excludes major countries not subject to U.S. hegemony.)

Still, there’s that problem of the 2000 Special Forces there in Syria, operating alongside Kurds that Turkey sees as “terrorists.” And since Trump wants to withdraw them, Erdogan wants to move in to eradicate what he sees as a national security threat. Which is to say: the U.S. imperialist orgy in the Greater Middle East has finally reached the crisis-point in which its interests conflict with those of a close ally, and there may be war between its NATO pal and its Syrian Kurdish clients.

This is very, very embarrassing. And since the president is an unstable, unpredictable fool—alternately stubborn and malleable—his national security advisor John Bolton (the very worst man imaginable in the current situation—a lying, amoral, opportunistic, crazed thug) has to go off to Israel to promise Benjamin Netanyahu that Trump, having announced a Syrian withdrawal, won’t in fact withdraw troops unless Turkey and Israel agree on the specifics.

Meanwhile the Kurds themselves, with long experience of U.S. betrayal, have reached out to the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, which is willing to negotiate with the Peshmerga for an autonomous Rojava region. It is possible that the horrific Syrian tragedy will end with the re-consolidation of the secular state, including that plan for autonomy, with security assurances to Turkey and support from Russia and Iran, leaving the U.S. aside (as an unhelpful, indeed toxic, partner).

It’s also possible that the Turkish leader, who has had an on-again, off-again friendship with the mad president and who pointedly snubbed Bolton during his visit the other day, will break with Washington, realign with Russia (from whom he has already agreed to purchase billions in armaments, to the consternation of NATO leaders) and make it finally clear to the world that the criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq produces some very heavy karma.

In attempting to reconfigure and dominate the Middle East, the neocon-led George W. Bush administration triggered a process that now leads—perhaps inevitably—to division within the U.S.’s own camp. The obvious, embarrassing division between idiot Bolton’s iterations in Cairo and Tel Aviv, and his boss’s idle blabbering about pulling out of Syria, results from the illogic of the whole U.S. enterprise in the first place.

You cannot simply announce that you—as the world’s “exceptional” nation—are entitled to impose your (myth of) “democracy” (= smiling submission to capitalist-imperialist domination) on all other nations, in which effort your nurtured allies since the 1940s are supposed to collude.

But no, dumb-ass! You cannot reconcile the differences between Turkey and the Kurds, or any of the other fundamental conflicts in the Middle East, on the basis of your warped consciousness of “national interests” and contemptuous ignorance of history. You cannot prevent the vicious assault of the Bush-Cheney regime on the Middle East—continued by the cowardly continuance of Bush-Cheney policy by Barack Obama and his bloodthirsty secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, throughout the region culminating in the absolute wreckage of North Africa’s most advanced, affluent state—from leading the chickens home to roost.

You cannot prevent your unforgivable, savage interventions in the Middle East from shattering your own long-cherished alliances with client states whose interests actually now oppose your own. Welcome to imperial decline, you dumb-ass Bolton, you moronic sociopath Donald Trump. Chickens are jumping up and down in the chicken-coop, agitated, reorienting. The sky is falling, this time, really.

Good!

A Shift: Repudiating War on Yemen

Twenty years ago, a small delegation organized by Voices in the Wilderness lived in Baghdad while U.S. cruise missiles attacked more than 100 targets in Iraq. Following four days of bombing, known as “Operation Desert Fox,” our group visited various Iraqis who had survived direct hits. One young girl handed me a large missile fragment, saying “Merry Christmas.”

An engineer, Gasim Risun, cradled his two-week old baby as he sat in his hospital bed. Gasim had suffered multiple wounds, but he was the only one in his family well enough to care for the infant, after an unexploded missile destroyed his house. In Baghdad, a bomb demolished a former military defense headquarters, and the shock waves shattered the windows in the hospital next door. Doctors said the explosions terrified women in the maternity ward, causing some to spontaneously abort their babies while others went into premature labor.

In December 1998, U.S. news media steadily focused on only one person living in Iraq: Saddam Hussein. With the notable exception of Stephen Kinzer of The New York Times, no mainstream media focused on U.N. reports about the consequences of U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Iraq. One of Kinzer’s articles was headlined: “Iraq a Pediatrician’s Hell: No Way to Stop the Dying.”

The hellish conditions continued, even as U.N. officials sounded the alarm and explained how economic sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children under age five.

Now a horror story of similar proportions is playing out in Yemen.

In November 2018, The Guardian reported that up to 85,000 Yemeni children under age five  have died from starvation and disease during the last three years. Mainstream media and even governments of large and wealthy countries are finally beginning to acknowledge the anguish suffered by Yemeni children and their families.

Stark and compelling photos show listless, skeletal children who are minutes or days away from death. Reports also show how war plans have deliberately targeted Yemen’s infrastructure, leading to horrifying disease and starvation. Journalists who have met with people targeted as Houthi fighters, many of them farmers and fishermen, describe how people can’t escape the sophisticated U.S. manufactured weapons fired at them from massive warplanes.

One recent Associated Press photo, on page one of The New York Times for December 14, shows a line of tribespeople loyal to the Houthis. The youngest child is the only one not balancing a rifle upright on the ground in front of him. The tribespeople bear arms, but they are poorly equipped, especially compared to the U.S.-armed Saudis.

Since 2010, according to The New York Times, the United States has sold the Saudis thirty F-15 multirole jet fighters, eighty-four combat helicopters, 110 air-to-surface cruise missiles, and 20,000 precision guided bombs. Last year, the United States also sold the Saudis ten maritime helicopters in a $1.9 billion deal. An American defense contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, “earned tens of millions of dollars training the Saudi Navy during the past decade.”

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—along with his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed—seemed untouchable. He was feted and regaled by former Presidents, Oprah, Hollywood show biz magnates, and constant media hype.

Now, the U.S. Senate has passed a resolution holding him accountable for the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Several U.S. Senators have said they no longer want to be responsible for bloodshed he has caused in Yemen. U.N. negotiators have managed to broker a fragile ceasefire, now in effect, which will hopefully stop the fighting that has raged in the vital port city of Hodeidah. One message which may have prompted the Saudis to negotiate came in the form of a Senate vote threatening to curtail the support of U.S. armed forces for the Saudi-led Coalition’s war on Yemen.

I doubt these actions will bring solace or comfort to parents who cradle their listless and dying children. People on the brink of famine cannot wait days, weeks, or months while powerful groups slowly move through negotiations.

And yet, a shift in public perception regarding war on Yemen could liberate others from the terrible spectre of early death.

Writing during another war, while he was exiled from Vietnam, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh imagined the birth of a “Peace Child.” He ends his poem by calling on people to give both their hands for the chance to “protect the seeds of life bursting on the cradle’s rim.”

I think of Iraqi mothers who lost their babies as bombs exploded just outside their maternity ward. The shift in public perception is painfully too late for innumerable people traumatized and bereaved by war. Nevertheless, the chance to press with all our might for a continuing and growing shift, repudiating war, could point us in a new direction.

The war in Yemen is horrific and ought to be ended immediately. It makes eminent good sense to give both our hands and all the energies we can possibly summon, to end the war in Yemen and vow the abolition of all war.

• This article first appeared on the website of The Progressive magazine.

Veneration Of Power Leading To Climate Catastrophe

In a recent media alert, we presented a few rules that journalists must follow if they are to be regarded as a safe pair of hands by editors and corporate media owners. One of these rules is that ‘we’ in the West are assumed to be ‘the good guys’. This seriously damaging narrative, flying in the face of historical evidence and endlessly crushing state policies, ensures that the public is kept ignorant and pacified. The consequences have been deadly for millions of the West’s victims around the world, and now mean climate catastrophe that could end human civilisation.

First, take the recent devout coverage following the death of George Herbert Walker Bush, US President from 1989-1993, and Vice-President under Ronald Reagan from 1981-1989. When a (former) Western leader dies, the raw propaganda is often at its most fawning and servile. On Bush’s death, ‘mainstream’ media outlets broadcast and published eulogies and fanciful words of praise, divorced from reality. For example, BBC News channelled former President Barack Obama:

George HW Bush’s life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling. And he did tremendous good along the journey.

The Clintons – like the Bush dynasty, part of the US ruling class – added their own gushing propaganda tribute:

Few Americans have been – or will ever be – able to match President Bush’s record of service to the United States and the joy he took every day from it.

Referring to the massive US attack following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, ‘impartial’ BBC News launched into full-blown Orwellian newspeak:

The subsequent battle proved to be a triumph for American military expertise and a major boost for the nation’s morale.

Likewise, the Guardian‘s obituary described Bush Senior’s devastation of Iraq as ‘triumphant’; ‘the president did not put a foot wrong’; ‘his most impressive achievement’; ‘Bush’s masterly management of the first Iraq war’; and so on, in an elite-friendly script that was essentially a press release from the very centre of US power.

The cruel reality of Bush’s ‘most impressive achievement’, as we noted in a 2002 media alert, was that Iraq’s entire civilian infrastructure was targeted and largely destroyed under the rain of bombs. All of Iraq’s eleven major electrical power plants, as well as 119 substations, were destroyed. 90 per cent of electricity generation was out of service within hours; within days, all power generation in the country had ceased. Eight multi-purpose dams were repeatedly hit and destroyed, wrecking flood control, municipal and industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power. Four of Iraq’s seven major water pumping stations were destroyed. According to Eric Hoskins, a Canadian doctor and coordinator of a Harvard study team on Iraq, the allied bombardment:

effectively terminated everything vital to human survival in Iraq – electricity, water, sewage systems, agriculture, industry and health care.1

Under the 88,500 tons of bombs – the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas – that followed the launch of the air campaign on January 17, 1991, and the ground attack that followed, 150,000 Iraqi troops and 50,000 civilians were killed. The Guardian‘s glowing obituary omitted all of these brutal facts. The Observer, the Guardian‘s Sunday sister paper, sang from the same hymn sheet, describing the former head of the CIA and US president as:

an American patriot with a deep sense of duty.

The guff piece was written by serial propagandist Simon Tisdall who has variously been a foreign leader writer, foreign editor and US editor for the Guardian. Tisdall waxed that:

Bush set great store by civility in public life. As Republican candidate in 1988 he called for a “kinder, gentler nation”. He was, quintessentially, a decent man, with a taste for the lifestyle of an English country gentleman.

Bush’s ‘most admirable quality’, opined the Guardian man, was ‘his deep sense of public duty and service.’ That word ‘service’ again, repeated over and over like a mantra. But who was really being served by Bush’s violence?

The Guardian devoted a section of its website to Bush Sr, featuring headlines such as:

A different command”. How Bush’s war shaped his work for peace’

a man of the highest character’

The “dear dad” dedicated to faith, family and country’

Steady hand during collapse of communism’

“Dear Bill.” Clinton heralds letter from Bush as source of lasting friendship

When Official Enemies portray their Glorious Leaders in this way, western commentators routinely sneer with derision. Al Abunimah, editor of Electronic Intifada, highlighted the above litany of nonsense in a single tweet, and rightly scorned the Guardian as ‘a bastion of regime propaganda and sycophancy to powerful elites.’

Meanwhile, BBC News, like the rest of the corporate media, virtually canonised Bush as a saintly agent of Western benevolence. Even his ‘service dog’ Sully paid a ‘touching last tribute‘, sleeping beside the late President’s casket. We were to understand that Sully was heart-broken after long years spent devotedly serving his ‘master’. In fact, he had been assigned to assist Bush in the summer of 2018, just a few months ago.

By glaring contrast, a Morning Star editorial gave an honest assessment of Bush Sr’s contribution to the world, summed up as:

A lifetime in the service of imperialism.

Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs, listed numerous appalling crimes and abuses of human rights carried out by Bush, almost entirely buried by sycophantic journalists on his death, and concluded:

Coverage of George H.W. Bush’s death proves that Noam Chomsky’s media theory is completely true.

‘Mainstream’ media professionals do not know, or do not care, what Bush actually did in his life. Perhaps they also assume that the public do not know or care either. Obedient journalists have simply buried the destruction and mass death wreaked on Iraq in the Gulf War. In his Bush obituary, Nick Bryant, the New York-based BBC News correspondent, brushed all this away and stuck to the standard deception of ‘mistakes were made’ in Iraq. By ‘mistakes’, Bryant meant that the US encouraged the Kurds and Shia-dominated south to revolt against Saddam Hussein, but then failed to offer sufficient backing. Under BBC ‘journalism’, Bush’s ‘mistakes’ do not include mass killing and destruction. That is simply unthinkable.

The truth is that the corporate media, the BBC very much included, do not care about the deadly effect of mass sanctions and infrastructure destruction on Iraq through the 1990s, up to the 2003 Iraq War. Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, reported that 4,000 more children under five were dying every month in Iraq than would have died before Western sanctions were imposed. A total of half a million children under five died, amongst a total death toll of over one million Iraqis. There is clearly no need or desire for western corporate media to dwell on Bush Sr’s role in such horrors.

Nor do corporate journalists care about his service to death, torture, secret assassinations, and propping up of dictators in his role as head of the CIA. They do not care that, as Vice-President, Bush refused to apologise for the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655 over the Persian Gulf by the US warship Vincennes on July 3, 1988. All 290 people on board the plane were killed, including 66 children. Instead, he said callously:

I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are. … I’m not an apologize-for America kind of guy.

Clearly, most corporate journalists do not care that Bush shares responsibility for the multiple bloodbaths that soaked Latin America in the 1980s. They do not care that Bush was, as historian Greg Grandin notes, an ‘icon’ of ‘brutal US oppression in the Third World’. They do not care that Bush invaded Panama in 1989, in the biggest deployment of US force since the Vietnam War, ostensibly to capture former US ally Manuel Noriega on charges of drug trafficking. US planes heavily bombed populated areas, resulting in the estimated deaths of 3,000 Panamanians. Grandin says that the ‘lasting impact of the Panama invasion’ is the US wars that followed in subsequent decades. On Bush’s death, the corporate media did their job of whitewashing his blood-soaked legacy; just as they covered for his crimes when he was in power.

‘Climate Catastrophe Now Inevitable’

All this matters because the media’s veneration of Bush, and western leaders generally, is a glaring symptom of a deep truth about the corporate media: their primary function is to project a severely distorted view of world events, one that embodies state and corporate priorities rooted in power and short-term profit at any cost.

The public is perennially starved of rational facts about the real state of the planet, and the greed-driven policies that hold sway over electorates and even over global ecosystems. The appalling consequence is that we are now certainly headed for climate catastrophe. Even a few within the corporate media have started to admit as much. Science writer Robin McKie noted in the Guardian that:

Climate catastrophe is now looking inevitable.

McKie added that the US has produced around one third of the carbon dioxide responsible for global warming:

Yet it has essentially done nothing to check its annual rises in output. Lobbying by the fossil fuel industry has proved highly effective at blocking political change – a point most recently demonstrated by groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute, which helped persuade President Trump to pull out of the Paris agreement, thus dashing the planet’s last hope of ecological salvation.

He cited environmentalist Bill McKibben:

The coalition [fossil fuel lobby] used its power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up. As a result, the particular politics of one country for one half-century will have changed the geological history of the Earth.

Global carbon emissions reached a new high in 2018. In other words, nothing of real significance has been achieved in thirty years of supposedly trying to cut emissions – other than making the problem very much worse – and we now only have a decade to completely turn things around. The blocking effects by powerful industry lobbies and corporate-captured political ‘leaders’, hugely underreported by the corporate media, are a disaster for the human race. Stefan Rahmstorf, a senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, highlighted a new analysis of carbon emissions by the Carbon Research Project and said:

See how easily we could have solved the climate crisis if we had started in 2000! Only 4% reduction per year. Now we need 18% per year. You can thank climate deniers, lobby groups and cowardly politicians for this delay.

Kevin Anderson of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Research concurred:

Spot on by [Rahmstorf]. The academic community also take some responsibility for all too often remaining quiet about completely irresponsible decisions. Just listen to the roar of complicit silence over the UK’s shale gas plans, the new oil platform, airport & road expansion.

Renowned climate scientist Michael Mann declared:

We’ve got a LOT of work to do folks. After flat-lining for 3 years, CO2 emissions have now ticked up two years straight. This is no time for climate change denying/delaying politicians. We must vote them out & elect in their place politicians who will LEAD on climate.

He added:

It is no longer enough for politicians to just say the right things about climate change. They must demonstrate a commitment to meaningful actions & specific policies aimed at rapid reductions in carbon emissions. We are now officially starting to run out of time…

Julia Steinberger, Associate Professor of Ecological Economics at the University of Leeds, put the scale of the challenge succinctly:

If people had ANY idea of the harm and loss that is coming our way with #ClimateBreakdown, they would stop driving, flying, eating meat, overheating and overconsuming pretty much instantly, and work tirelessly to build new low carbon societies.

Instead, powerful industry lobbies are working tirelessly to block the radical action that is required.

A new Met Office study shows that the UK summer heatwave this year was made thirty times more likely by the human impact on climate. Met Office scientist Peter Stott issued a deadly warning:

Humanity just won’t be able to cope with the world we are heading for.

Last year, Arctic News editor Sam Carana pointed out the dangers of methane, a highly potent global warming gas:

As the temperature of the Arctic Ocean keeps rising, it seems inevitable that more and more methane will rise from its seafloor and enter the atmosphere, at first strongly warming up the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean itself – thus causing further methane eruptions – and eventually warming up the atmosphere across the globe.

A giant ‘burp’ of methane gas could happen suddenly and increase global temperatures rapidly. If this sounds like a scare story, Harold Wanless, Professor of Geology and a specialist in sea level rise at the University of Miami, puts it in perspective:

Scientists tend to be pretty conservative. We don’t like to scare people, and we don’t like to step out of our little predictable boxes. But I suspect the situation is going to spin out of hand pretty quickly. If you look at the history of warming periods, things can move pretty fast, and when that happens that’s when you get extinction events.

I would not discount the possibility that it could happen in the next ten years.

In summary, scientists are calling for immediate large cuts in carbon emissions. Given the normally conservative pronouncements by overly cautious experts, such warnings should stop us all in our tracks. Climate scientists are virtually screaming at those running our political and economic systems to make drastic changes now.

However, at the start of a new UN climate conference in Poland, the follow-up to the 2015 Paris summit, a BBC News article observed starkly:

The gap between what countries say they are doing and what needs to be done has never been wider.

In other words, the dangers of rapid and cataclysmic global warming are now so glaring that some degree of urgency is being communicated occasionally, very occasionally, from within the corporate media. It would hurt establishment media credibility too much in the eyes of the public were that otherwise.

Safe ‘national treasure’ David Attenborough has become more outspoken of late. He addressed the UN conference:

We’re facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.

He told the BBC:

All over the world there are people who are suffering as a consequence [of climate change] whose voices have not been heard.

Last week, the Daily Mirror went as far as putting Attenborough’s warning on its front page:

Time Is Running Out To Save Planet

But the daily diet of ‘news’ pumped out by the major news media is still a massive distraction from the huge widespread changes in society, politics and the economy that are needed immediately. Why is the climate crisis not a vital component, perhaps even the primary component, of news reporting on the economy, business, commerce, politics, and Parliament? Why is it usually restricted to science and environment ‘stories’? For instance, how often does the BBC’s business editor, Simon Jack, address the climate crisis in his reports? Never, if our occasional sampling is indicative. Nor does he ever respond to our polite challenges to do so. The same applied to the recently departed BBC economics editor, Kamal Ahmed. This is a gross dereliction of duty by the BBC to the public who pays for it.

Are we supposed to obsess over slight changes in interest rates, currency exchange rates, the FTSE 100 index, and the size of the UK economy, even while the planet’s natural resources are plundered, ecosystems collapse, and the mass loss of species accelerates? Why are these much latter, more crucial numbers and facts about the state of the planet not routinely cited in corporate media reporting on the state of business and the economy? Perhaps we are supposed to regard the number of rivets on the Titanic a reliable measure of the ship’s robustness, even as it plummets beneath the waves.

Just consider the US news media reporting on the appalling forest wildfires in California last month. Although scientists have stated clearly that climate change is a significant factor in these catastrophic wildfires, national US television networks made the link with climate in less than four per cent of their reports on the calamity. We are not aware of any similar study of UK television coverage. But it was certainly apparent that BBC News at Ten made very little mention of the links between global warming and the Californian wildfires, just as climate was glaringly absent from its coverage of this summer’s drought in the UK.

It is true that the burgeoning grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion, and the remarkable 15-year-old Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, are not entirely absent from news coverage. But, given the stakes, their activism and their urgent messages to society as a whole would be making headlines every day in a sane media system. Extinction Rebellion are calling for peaceful mass civil disobedience to demand:

an immediate reversal of climate-toxic policies, net-zero emissions by 2025 and the establishment of a citizen’s assembly to oversee the radical changes necessary to halt global warming.

During one recent climate protest that blocked five major bridges in central London, one protester said:

We have tried marching, and lobbying, and signing petitions. Nothing has brought about the change that is needed.

Extinction Rebellion issued a stark warning:

Our aims may be ambitious. But we are striving for nothing less than the fate of our planet.

The inspiring clip that goes along with these words depicts suffragettes, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and many others pushing for positive changes in the world. Thunberg has explained in very simple and powerful terms how and why she became so motivated to do something about climate change. It happened in school at the age of nine:

They [teachers] were always talking about how we should turn off lights, save water, not throw out food. I asked why and they explained about climate change. And I thought this was very strange. If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else. But this wasn’t happening.

Now, at 15, her commitment to go on school strike to devote herself to climate activism is an inspiration to many around the world, including the Extinction Rebellion movement. She has a succinct riposte to those who accuse her of neglecting her education:

Some say I should be in school. But why should any young person be made to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future? What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?

The time has passed for the public to rely on political leaders taking the right steps to tackle the climate crisis. As Thunberg said in her speech to the UN climate conference:

So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.

As ever, it is up to each one of us to ensure that this change happens.

  1. Quoted Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995.

From Central America to Syria: The Conspiracy against Refugees

Watching the ongoing debate between US liberal and right-wing pundits on US mainstream media, one rarely gets the impression that Washington is responsible for the unfolding crisis in Central America.

In fact, no other country is as accountable as the United States for the Central American bedlam and resulting refugee crisis.

So why, despite the seemingly substantial ideological and political differences between right-wing Fox News and liberal CNN, both media outlets are working hard to safeguard their country’s dirty little secret?

In recent years, state and gang violence – coupled with extreme poverty – have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, among other countries, in Central and South America.

US mainstream media, however, is rarely interested in the root cause of that reality.

Fox News is tirelessly peddling the offensive language used by President Donald Trump, which perceives the refugees as criminals and terrorists, who pose a threat to US national security.

At a press conference last October, Trump urged a reporter to take his camera into ”the middle” of a caravan of migrants on the treacherous journey through Mexico, to locate ”Middle Eastern” people that have infiltrated the crowd. In Trump’s thinking, ‘Middle Eastern people’ is synonymous with terrorists.

CNN has, on the other hand, labored to counter the growing anti-immigrant official and media sentiments that have plagued the US, a discourse that is constantly prodded and manipulated by Trump and his supporters.

However, few in the liberal media have the courage to probe the story beyond convenient political rivalry, persisting in their hypocritical and insincere humanitarianism that is divorced from any meaningful political context.

The fact is the Central American refugee crisis is similar to the plethora of Middle East and Central Asian refugee crises of recent years. Mass migration is almost always the direct outcome of political meddling and military interventions.

From Afghanistan, to Iraq, Libya, Syria, millions of refugees were forced, by circumstances beyond their control, to seek safety in some other country.

Millions of Iraqis and Syrians found themselves in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, while a far smaller number trickled to Europe, all seeking safety from the grinding wars.

Political opportunists in Europe are no different from their American counterparts. While the former has seized on the tragedy of the refugees to sow seeds of fear and hate-mongering, Americans, too, have blamed the refugees for their own misery.

Blaming the victim is nothing new.

Iraqis were once blamed for failing to appreciate Western democracy, Libyans for their failed state, Syrians for taking the wrong side of a protracted war, and so on.

Yet, the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Syria are all, in varied degrees, outcomes of military interventions, a truth that does not seem to register in the self-absorbed minds of both right-wing and liberal intellectuals.

The irony is that the hapless refugees, whether those escaping to Europe or to the United States, are perceived to be the aggressors, the invaders, as opposed to the US and allies that had, in fact, invaded these once stable and sovereign homelands.

Trump has often referred to the Central American migrants’ caravan as an ‘invasion’.  Fox News parroted that claim, and injected the possibility of having the refugees shot upon arrival.

If Fox News lacked the decency to treat refugees as human beings deserving of sympathy and respect, CNN lacked the courage to expand the discussion beyond Trump’s horrid language and inhumane policies.

To expand the parameters of the conversation would expose a policy that was not introduced by Trump, but by Bill Clinton and applied in earnest by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Media grandstanding aside, both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the current refugee crisis.

In 1996, Democratic President Clinton unleashed a war on refugees when he passed two consecutive legislations: the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

Millions of people – who had escaped US-instigated wars and military coups – were deported back to Central and South America. While 2 million people were deported during the Bush terms, 2.5 million were deported under Obama.

A terrible situation was exacerbated. Violence and want flared even more.

To rally his angry and radicalized constituency, Trump waved the migrant card once more, threatening to build a “great wall” and to close “loopholes” in the US immigration law.

Like his predecessors, he offered little by way of redressing an unjust reality that is constantly fomented by destructive US foreign policy, stretching decades.

But the refugees kept on coming, mostly from Central America’s Northern Triangle region. Without proper political context, they, too, were duly blamed for their hardship.

Considering Fox News and CNN’s lack of quality coverage, this is not surprising. Few Americans know of the sordid history of their country in that region, starting with the CIA-engineered coup d’état in Guatemala in 1954, or the US support of the coup against the democratically-elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, or of everything else that happened in between these dates.

The unhealthy relationship between the US and its southern neighbors goes back as early as 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt declared the ‘right’ of his country to hold “international police power” in Latin America. Since then, the entire region has been Washington’s business.

The free trade agreement (CAFTA-DR) signed between Central American countries and the US has done its own share of damage. It “restructured the region’s economy and guaranteed economic dependence on the United States through massive trade imbalances and the influx of American agricultural and industrial goods that weakened domestic industries,” wrote Mark Tseng-Putterman in Medium.

Acknowledging all of this is threatening. If US mainstream pundits accept their country’s destructive role in Central and South America, they will be forced to abandon the role of the victim (embraced by the right) or the savior (embraced by the left), which has served them well.

The same stifling political and intellectual routine is witnessed in Europe, too.

But this denial of moral responsibility will only contribute to the problem, not to its resolution. No amount of racism on the part of the right, or crocodile tears of the liberals, will ever rectify this skewed paradigm.

This is as true in Central America as it is in the Middle East.

Children: Civilization’s Future, Victims of Western Brutality

The United Nations Universal Children’s Day – 20 November – has come and gone and nothing has changed. No action that would now protect children any more than before, no move even by the UN to call on nations at war to take special care to protect children if for nothing else but the fact that children are our planet’s future. They are the standard bearer of human generations to come and of our civilization as a whole, if we don’t run it into the ground. Yet, children are among the most vulnerable, discriminated and abjectly exploited and abused species within human kind.

The culture of greed and instant profit has no space for children, for their rights, for their up-bringing within a frame of human rights, fair education, access to shelter and health services everywhere. For much of our western society, children are a nuisance, at best, a tool for cheap labor, especially when the west outsources its production processes to poor developing countries, mostly in Asia and Central America, so poor that they cannot enforce laws against child labor, all to maximize corporate profits.

Otherwise the western driven killing and war machine indiscriminately slaughters children, by famine, by drones, by bombs, by disease, by abuse. Collateral damage? I doubt it. Children could be protected, even in illegal wars. But eradicating by death and poverty entire generations in nations the west intends to subdue has a purpose: rebuilding of these nations will not take place under the watch of educated children, grown adults, who would most likely oppose their ‘hangmen’, those that have destroyed their homes and families, their villages and towns, their schools and hospital, their drinking water supply systems, leaving them to the plight of cholera and other diseases brought about by lack of hygiene and sanitation. So, in the interest of the empire and its puppet allies, children’s calamities and crimes on them are at best under reported. In most cases nobody even cares.

Look at Syria. The poison gas attacks instigated by US and NATO forces, carried out by their proxies ISIS and Saudi Arabia, to blame them on President Bashar al-Assad, were directed at children for greater public relations impact, further helped by the fake heroes, the White Helmets. Can you imagine! (I’m sure you can!) Children have to be poisoned and killed by western forces who want to topple the Syrian Assad regime to put their puppet in Assad’s place, so that they can control the country and eventually the region. Yes, children are sacrificed – a huge crime against humanity – to commit another horrendous international crime – forcefully change a democratically elected regime. That’s what the west does and is – and probably always was for the last 2000 years.

Take the situation of Yemen, where for the last 3 ½ years the network of the world’s biggest mafia killer scheme, led by Saudi Arabia, as the patsy and foreign money funnel aiding the United States and her allies in crime, the UK, France, Spain, several of the Gulf States, until recently also Germany, and many more – has killed by bombs, starvation and cholera induced by willingly destroyed water supply and sanitation systems, maybe hundreds of thousands of children.

According to Save the Children, some 85,000 children below 5 years of age may have already died from famine; mind you, a purposefully induced famine, as Saudi and Gulf forces destroyed and blocked the port of Hodeida, where about 80% – 90% of imported food enters the country. The most vulnerable ones, as with every man-made disaster, are children and women.

Already a year ago, the UN warned that the cholera outbreak in Yemen is the fastest spreading cholera epidemic since records began and that it will affect at least a million people, including at least 600,000 children. A year later – how many of them have died? Extreme food shortages, destroyed shelters and hospitals, lack of medication, as medicine is also blocked at the points of import, have reduced children’s natural immune systems even further.

Imagine the suffering caused not just to the children, but to their parents, families, communities! What the west is doing is beyond words. It’s beyond crime; and all those ‘leaders’ (sic) responsible will most likely never face a criminal court, as they are controlling all the major justice systems in the world. Though, no justice could make good for the killing and misery, but at least it could demonstrate that universal crime – as is the war on Yemen and many others fought for greed and power – is not tolerated with impunity.

UNHCR – the UN refugee agency — reports that worldwide some 70 million refugees are on the move or in refugee camps. This figure does not include a large number of unreported cases, perhaps up to a third more. Most of the refugees are generated in the Middle East by western initiated wars; wars for greed, for natural resources, for controlling a geopolitically and strategically important region on the seemingly ‘unstoppable’ way to full power world dominance.

At least two thirds of the refugees are children – no health care, no education, no suitable shelter, or none at all, malnourished-to-starving, raped, abused, enslaved – you name it.

Where do all these children go? What is their future? There will be societies – Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan – missing a full generation. The countries are suffering a gap in educated people. This wanton gap will likely prevent rebuilding and developing their nations according to their sovereign rights. These countries are easier to control, subdue and enslave.

Just imagine, many of the lost children pass under the radar of human statistics, ignored, many of them are totally abandoned, no parents, no family, nobody to care for them, nobody to love them – they may quietly die – die in the gutters, unknown, anonymous. We – the brutal west – let them.

And the UN-declared Children’s Day has come and gone and nothing has changed, Nothing will change as long as the west is devastating indiscriminately countries, cities, villages for sheer greed. Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan — never were threatening the United States, nor Israel, of course. But they have resources the west covets, or they are geopolitically of strategic importance – for step by bloody step advancing towards world hegemony.

According to the UN, about 300 million children around the world do not go to school. Again, the unreported figure is possibly double or higher, especially including those that attend school only sporadically. Many of the children are abducted, sold into slavery, prostitution, imprisoned for medical testing and for use in orgies of blood thirsty secret societies, their organs harvested and traded by mafia type organizations. Organ trading allegations are levied against Israel’s armed forces killing thousands of children in Israel’s open prison and extermination camp, called Gaza; and against Ukraine’s Kiev Nazi Government.

Did you know, 60% of all children in Gaza are mutilated and amputated as a result of Israel’s war against the Palestine population? And the world looks on, not daring to protest and stand up against this criminal nation – God’s chosen people.

In the UK, 1 of 4 children live in poverty. In the US, 60 million children go to bed hungry every night. As I write these lines, at the US-Mexican border refugee children and their mothers are being shot at with teargas canons by US police and military forces, to prevent them from entering Mr. Trump’s Holy Land, the Great United States of America.

The former UN Secretary General, Koffi Annan, winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, referring to the horrific siege on Aleppo and calling for international action to stop the war, said:

The assault on Aleppo is an assault on the whole world. When hospitals, schools and homes are bombed indiscriminately, killing and maiming hundreds of innocent children, these are acts that constitute an attack on our shared, fundamental human values. Our collective cry for action must be heard, and acted upon, by all those engaged in this dreadful war.

But, how could the world of today be described better than by Caitlin Johnstone in her recent poem “Welcome to Planet Earth”, where she says:

Welcome to Planet Earth…… where children who do not know how to live, teach their children how to live; where children pray for miracles, using minds that are made of miracles; with clasped hands that are made of miracles; where children wander in search of God, upon feet that are made of God, looking with eyes that are made of God.

Where have all the children gone?

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NE0)

The Power of the Documentary

At the same time that John Pilger makes his keynote speech to open his The Power of Documentary Film Festival, you can read the text here.

Breaking the Silence

The Power of the Documentary is an unusual film festival, because its aim is to break a silence that extends across much of film-making, the arts and journalism.

By silence I mean the exclusion of ideas that might change the way we see our world, or help us make sense of it.

There are 26 films in this festival and each one pushes back a screen of propaganda – not just the propaganda of governments but of a powerful groupthink of special interests designed to distract and intimidate us and which often takes its cue from social media and is the enemy of the arts and political freedom.

Documentary films that challenge this are an endangered species. Many of the films in the festival are rare. Several have never been seen in this country. Why?

There’s no official censorship in Australia, but there is a fear of ideas. Ideas of real politics. Ideas of dissent. Ideas of satire. Ideas that go against the groupthink. Ideas that reject the demands of corporatism. Ideas that reach back to the riches of Australia’s hidden history.

It’s as if our political memory has been hi-jacked, and we’ve become so immersed in a self-regarding me-ism that we’ve forgotten how to act together and challenge rapacious power that is now rampant in our own country and across the world.

(pause)

The term “documentary” was coined by the Scottish director John Grierson. “The drama of film,” he said, “is on your doorstep. It is wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

I like those words: “on your doorstep”.

What they say is that it’s the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people that has given us the documentary film at best. That’s the difference.

A documentary is not reality TV.  Political documentary is not the consensual game played by politicians and journalists called “current affairs”.

Great documentaries frighten the powerful, unnerve the compliant, expose the hypocritical.

Great documentaries make us think, and think again, and speak out, and even take action.

Tomorrow at the MCA, we’ll show a documentary called Harvest of Shame directed by Susan Steinberg and Fred Friendly and featuring the great American journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Made in 1960, this film helped pave the way to the first Civil Rights laws that finally ended slavery in the United States, though not the oppression borne of slavery.  It has great relevance in the Age of Donald Trump, and Theresa May and Scott Morrison.

On 9th December, we’ll show a remarkable film entitled I am Not Your Negro, in which the writer James Baldwin speaks not only for African-Americans but for those who are cast aside everywhere, and these include the First Nations people of Australia, still invisible in the country that is unique only because of them.

Next week, at the Riverside, we’ll  show The War Game.

The War Game was made for the BBC in 1965 by Peter Watkins, a brilliant young film-maker then in his early 20s.

Watkins achieved the impossible — he re-created the aftermath of a nuclear attack on a town in southern England. It’s true reality; it’s surreal; it’s truth.

No one has ever matched Peter Watkins’ achievement, or the direct challenge of his art to the insanity of nuclear war.

What he did was so authentic it terrified the BBC, which banned The War Game from television for 23 years.

In one sense, this was the highest compliment. His grainy 48-minute film had scared the powerful out of their wits.

They knew this film would change minds and cause people to question Cold War policies. They knew it would even turn people away from war itself, and save lives.

Today, not a frame of The War Game has been altered — yet it’s right up to date.

Not since the 1960s have we been as close to the risks and provocations and mistakes that beckon nuclear war. The news won’t tell you that. The incessant alerts on your smart phone won’t tell you that. That’s what I mean by ‘silence’.

Governments in Australia – a country with no enemies – seem determined to make an enemy out of China, a nuclear armed power, because that’s what America wants.

The propaganda is like a drumbeat. Our TV and newspapers have joined a chorus of American admirals and self-appointed experts and spooks in demanding we take the final steps to a confrontation with China and Russia.

Donald Trump’s vice president, a religious fanatic called Mike Pence, destroyed this month’s APEC conference with his demands for conflict with China.

Not a single voice in Australia’s privileged, deferential elite spoke out against this madness.

Well paid journalists have become gormless cyphers of the propaganda of war: lies known these days as fake news and spread by the intelligence agencies.

How shaming for my craft.

The aim of this festival is to break that collusive silence  –  not only with The War Game but with documentaries like The War You don’t See and The Coming War on China.

(pause)

And the festival is proud to feature Australian documentaries that have broken silences: Dennis O’Rourke’s haunting Half Life, and Curtis Levy’s The President Versus David Hicks — and Salute, Matt Norman’s film about his uncle, Peter Norman, the most courageous and least known of our sporting heroes.

Mark Davis’s film, Journey into Hell, was one of the first to report the persecution of the Rohingya in Thailand and Burma.

I shall be in conversation with Mark at the MCA next Wednesday. I urge you to come and hear this distinguished Australian journalist and film-maker.

This coming Friday, the 30th, the festival will welcome Alec Morgan, who will introduce his historic film, Lousy Little Sixpence.  This landmark documentary revealed the secrets and suffering of the Stolen Generation of Indigenous Australia.

We owe a debt to Alec Morgan, who made his film in the early 1980s, around the time Henry Reynolds published his epic history of Indigenous resistance, The Other Side of the Frontier. Together, they turned on a light in Australia.

Alec’s film has never been more relevant. Last week the NSW parliament passed a law which, for many Aboriginal people, brings back the whole nightmare of the Stolen Generation. It allows the adoption of their children. It allows Pru Goward’s troopers to turn up at dawn and take babies from birth tables. It was barely news, and it’s a disgrace.

I have made 61 documentaries. My first, The Quiet Mutiny, will be shown immediately after this talk. Filmed in 1970 when I was a young war reporter, The Quiet Mutiny revealed a rebellion sweeping the US military in Vietnam. The greatest army was crumbling. Young soldiers were refusing to fight and even shooting their officers.

When The Quiet Mutiny was first broadcast in Britain, the American ambassador, Walter Annenberg, a close friend of President Nixon, was apoplectic. He complained bitterly to the TV authorities and demanded that something be done about me. I was described as a “dangerous subversive”.

This is certainly the highest honour I have ever received, and tonight I bestow it on all the film makers in this festival. They, too, are dangerous subversives, as all documentary film-makers ought to be.

One of them is the Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez whose film, The Golden Dream, will be shown at the MCA on 2nd December.

This wonderful film takes us on a perilous journey through Central America to the US border. It could not be more relevant.

The heroes are children: the kind of children Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison and Donald Trump would call “illegal migrants”.

I urge you to come and see this film and to reflect on the crimes our own society commits against children and adults sent to our Pacific concentration camps: Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island: places of shame.

Of course, many of us are bothered by the outrages of Nauru and Manus. We write to the newspapers and hold vigils. But then what?

One film in the festival attempts to answer this question.

On 6th December, we’ll show Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, which the late David Munro and I made 25 years ago.

David and I filmed undercover in East Timor when that nation was in the grip of the Indonesian military. We were witnesses to the destruction of whole communities while the Australian government colluded with the dictatorship in Jakarta.

This documentary became part of one of the most effective and inspiring  public movements we’ve known in Australia. The aim was to help rescue East Timor.

There is a famous sequence in Death of a Nation in which Gareth Evans, foreign minister in the Labor governments of the 80s and 90s, gleefully raises a glass of champagne to toast his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, as they fly in an RAAF plane over the Timor Sea.

The pair of them had just agreed to carve up the oil and gas riches of East Timor.

They were celebrating an act of piracy.

Earlier this year, two principled Australians were charged under the draconian Intelligence Services Act.  They are whistleblowers.

Bernard Collaery is a lawyer, a former distinguished member of the ACT government and a tireless champion of refugees and justice. Collaery’s crime was to have represented an intelligence officer in ASIO, known as Witness K, a man of conscience.

They revealed that the government of John Howard had spied on East Timor so that Australia could defraud a tiny, impoverished nation of the proceeds of its natural resources.

Today, the Australian government is trying to punish these truth tellers no doubt as an example to us all — just as it tried to suppress the truth about Australia’s role in the genocide in East Timor, and in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it has colluded with Washington to silence the courageous Australian publisher Julian Assange.

Why do we allow governments, our governments, to commit great crimes, and why do so many of us remain silent?

This is a question for those of us privileged to be allowed into people’s lives and to be their voice and seek their support. It’s a question for film-makers, journalists, artists, arts administrators, editors, publishers.

We can no longer claim to be bystanders. Our responsibility is urgent, and as Tom Paine famously wrote: “The time is now.”

The Power of the Documentary

At the same time that John Pilger makes his keynote speech to open his The Power of Documentary Film Festival, you can read the text here.

Breaking the Silence

The Power of the Documentary is an unusual film festival, because its aim is to break a silence that extends across much of film-making, the arts and journalism.

By silence I mean the exclusion of ideas that might change the way we see our world, or help us make sense of it.

There are 26 films in this festival and each one pushes back a screen of propaganda – not just the propaganda of governments but of a powerful groupthink of special interests designed to distract and intimidate us and which often takes its cue from social media and is the enemy of the arts and political freedom.

Documentary films that challenge this are an endangered species. Many of the films in the festival are rare. Several have never been seen in this country. Why?

There’s no official censorship in Australia, but there is a fear of ideas. Ideas of real politics. Ideas of dissent. Ideas of satire. Ideas that go against the groupthink. Ideas that reject the demands of corporatism. Ideas that reach back to the riches of Australia’s hidden history.

It’s as if our political memory has been hi-jacked, and we’ve become so immersed in a self-regarding me-ism that we’ve forgotten how to act together and challenge rapacious power that is now rampant in our own country and across the world.

(pause)

The term “documentary” was coined by the Scottish director John Grierson. “The drama of film,” he said, “is on your doorstep. It is wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

I like those words: “on your doorstep”.

What they say is that it’s the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people that has given us the documentary film at best. That’s the difference.

A documentary is not reality TV.  Political documentary is not the consensual game played by politicians and journalists called “current affairs”.

Great documentaries frighten the powerful, unnerve the compliant, expose the hypocritical.

Great documentaries make us think, and think again, and speak out, and even take action.

Tomorrow at the MCA, we’ll show a documentary called Harvest of Shame directed by Susan Steinberg and Fred Friendly and featuring the great American journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Made in 1960, this film helped pave the way to the first Civil Rights laws that finally ended slavery in the United States, though not the oppression borne of slavery.  It has great relevance in the Age of Donald Trump, and Theresa May and Scott Morrison.

On 9th December, we’ll show a remarkable film entitled I am Not Your Negro, in which the writer James Baldwin speaks not only for African-Americans but for those who are cast aside everywhere, and these include the First Nations people of Australia, still invisible in the country that is unique only because of them.

Next week, at the Riverside, we’ll  show The War Game.

The War Game was made for the BBC in 1965 by Peter Watkins, a brilliant young film-maker then in his early 20s.

Watkins achieved the impossible — he re-created the aftermath of a nuclear attack on a town in southern England. It’s true reality; it’s surreal; it’s truth.

No one has ever matched Peter Watkins’ achievement, or the direct challenge of his art to the insanity of nuclear war.

What he did was so authentic it terrified the BBC, which banned The War Game from television for 23 years.

In one sense, this was the highest compliment. His grainy 48-minute film had scared the powerful out of their wits.

They knew this film would change minds and cause people to question Cold War policies. They knew it would even turn people away from war itself, and save lives.

Today, not a frame of The War Game has been altered — yet it’s right up to date.

Not since the 1960s have we been as close to the risks and provocations and mistakes that beckon nuclear war. The news won’t tell you that. The incessant alerts on your smart phone won’t tell you that. That’s what I mean by ‘silence’.

Governments in Australia – a country with no enemies – seem determined to make an enemy out of China, a nuclear armed power, because that’s what America wants.

The propaganda is like a drumbeat. Our TV and newspapers have joined a chorus of American admirals and self-appointed experts and spooks in demanding we take the final steps to a confrontation with China and Russia.

Donald Trump’s vice president, a religious fanatic called Mike Pence, destroyed this month’s APEC conference with his demands for conflict with China.

Not a single voice in Australia’s privileged, deferential elite spoke out against this madness.

Well paid journalists have become gormless cyphers of the propaganda of war: lies known these days as fake news and spread by the intelligence agencies.

How shaming for my craft.

The aim of this festival is to break that collusive silence  –  not only with The War Game but with documentaries like The War You don’t See and The Coming War on China.

(pause)

And the festival is proud to feature Australian documentaries that have broken silences: Dennis O’Rourke’s haunting Half Life, and Curtis Levy’s The President Versus David Hicks — and Salute, Matt Norman’s film about his uncle, Peter Norman, the most courageous and least known of our sporting heroes.

Mark Davis’s film, Journey into Hell, was one of the first to report the persecution of the Rohingya in Thailand and Burma.

I shall be in conversation with Mark at the MCA next Wednesday. I urge you to come and hear this distinguished Australian journalist and film-maker.

This coming Friday, the 30th, the festival will welcome Alec Morgan, who will introduce his historic film, Lousy Little Sixpence.  This landmark documentary revealed the secrets and suffering of the Stolen Generation of Indigenous Australia.

We owe a debt to Alec Morgan, who made his film in the early 1980s, around the time Henry Reynolds published his epic history of Indigenous resistance, The Other Side of the Frontier. Together, they turned on a light in Australia.

Alec’s film has never been more relevant. Last week the NSW parliament passed a law which, for many Aboriginal people, brings back the whole nightmare of the Stolen Generation. It allows the adoption of their children. It allows Pru Goward’s troopers to turn up at dawn and take babies from birth tables. It was barely news, and it’s a disgrace.

I have made 61 documentaries. My first, The Quiet Mutiny, will be shown immediately after this talk. Filmed in 1970 when I was a young war reporter, The Quiet Mutiny revealed a rebellion sweeping the US military in Vietnam. The greatest army was crumbling. Young soldiers were refusing to fight and even shooting their officers.

When The Quiet Mutiny was first broadcast in Britain, the American ambassador, Walter Annenberg, a close friend of President Nixon, was apoplectic. He complained bitterly to the TV authorities and demanded that something be done about me. I was described as a “dangerous subversive”.

This is certainly the highest honour I have ever received, and tonight I bestow it on all the film makers in this festival. They, too, are dangerous subversives, as all documentary film-makers ought to be.

One of them is the Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez whose film, The Golden Dream, will be shown at the MCA on 2nd December.

This wonderful film takes us on a perilous journey through Central America to the US border. It could not be more relevant.

The heroes are children: the kind of children Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison and Donald Trump would call “illegal migrants”.

I urge you to come and see this film and to reflect on the crimes our own society commits against children and adults sent to our Pacific concentration camps: Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island: places of shame.

Of course, many of us are bothered by the outrages of Nauru and Manus. We write to the newspapers and hold vigils. But then what?

One film in the festival attempts to answer this question.

On 6th December, we’ll show Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, which the late David Munro and I made 25 years ago.

David and I filmed undercover in East Timor when that nation was in the grip of the Indonesian military. We were witnesses to the destruction of whole communities while the Australian government colluded with the dictatorship in Jakarta.

This documentary became part of one of the most effective and inspiring  public movements we’ve known in Australia. The aim was to help rescue East Timor.

There is a famous sequence in Death of a Nation in which Gareth Evans, foreign minister in the Labor governments of the 80s and 90s, gleefully raises a glass of champagne to toast his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, as they fly in an RAAF plane over the Timor Sea.

The pair of them had just agreed to carve up the oil and gas riches of East Timor.

They were celebrating an act of piracy.

Earlier this year, two principled Australians were charged under the draconian Intelligence Services Act.  They are whistleblowers.

Bernard Collaery is a lawyer, a former distinguished member of the ACT government and a tireless champion of refugees and justice. Collaery’s crime was to have represented an intelligence officer in ASIO, known as Witness K, a man of conscience.

They revealed that the government of John Howard had spied on East Timor so that Australia could defraud a tiny, impoverished nation of the proceeds of its natural resources.

Today, the Australian government is trying to punish these truth tellers no doubt as an example to us all — just as it tried to suppress the truth about Australia’s role in the genocide in East Timor, and in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it has colluded with Washington to silence the courageous Australian publisher Julian Assange.

Why do we allow governments, our governments, to commit great crimes, and why do so many of us remain silent?

This is a question for those of us privileged to be allowed into people’s lives and to be their voice and seek their support. It’s a question for film-makers, journalists, artists, arts administrators, editors, publishers.

We can no longer claim to be bystanders. Our responsibility is urgent, and as Tom Paine famously wrote: “The time is now.”

The Filter Bubble: Owen Jones And Con Coughlin

There is something dreamlike about the system of mass communication sometimes described as ‘mainstream media’. The self-described ‘rogue journalist’ and ‘guerrilla poet’ Caitlin Johnstone tweeted it well:

The Iraq invasion feels kind of like if your dad had stood up at the dinner table, cut off your sister’s head in front of everyone, gone right back to eating and never suffered any consequences, and everyone just kind of forgot about it and carried on life like it never happened.

In a dream, the common sense rules and rationality of everyday life are, of course, suspended – we float to the top of the stairs, a cat smiles, a person is beheaded at the dinner table and the vegetables are served.

In similar vein, Iraq was destroyed in a nakedly illegal oil grab, more than one million human beings were killed, and the ‘mainstream’ continued to treat the criminals responsible as respectable statespeople, and to take seriously their subsequent calls for ‘humanitarian intervention’ in oil-rich Libya. With Libya reduced to ruins, the same journalists dreamed on, treating the same criminals with the same respect as they sought yet one more regime change in Syria.

This nightmare version of ‘news’ is maintained by a corporate ‘filter bubble‘ that blocks facts, ideas and sources that challenge state-corporate control of politics, economics and culture. It is maintained by a mixture of ruthless high-level control and middle- and lower-level compromise, conformity and self-serving blindness.

It stands to reason that anyone seeking employment within this bubble will have to accept an unwritten agreement not to challenge the integrity of the bubble by which they are granted wealth and fame. Any ingrate deciding to renege is attacked, reviled and cast out; treated almost as sub-human, not entirely real. Politicians like George Galloway challenging the bubble can be beaten up in broad daylight and it is of no concern. Idealistic hippies like Russell Brand preaching love can be torn to shreds and silenced by the press pack – it doesn’t matter. Whistleblowing activists like Julian Assange can be trapped, threatened with life imprisonment and death, and it is a laughing matter. Whole countries can be destroyed – it doesn’t matter. The climate can be destroyed – it doesn’t matter. The filter bubble has its own dream logic, follows its own cosmic laws as if the real world was none of its concern.

It is fine for one corporate bubble-head to criticise another bubble-head’s take on current affairs – boisterous, jovial, intra-bubble gossip is welcome. Anything that challenges the integrity of the bubble is forbidden, hated; tolerated in tiny doses, perhaps, to keep up appearances. It is just understood.

So what happens when a high-profile political commentator breaks the rules and thrusts a pin of Truth at the filter bubble? What happens when a fellow journalist is exposed in a way that has negative implications for all newspapers, all media outlets? How will the rest of journalism respond?

Owen Jones on Con Coughlin

On October 11, Guardian columnist Owen Jones broke the usual rules in an attack on the Telegraph’s defence correspondent, Con Coughlin, who, Jones noted, had attended a party at the Saudi embassy in London:

Hi @concoughlin. You left tonight’s Saudi Embassy bash at the @NHM_London safe and well. That’s more than can be said for your fellow journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who allegedly was chopped into pieces in Turkey’s Saudi Consulate. Any pangs of conscience?’

The following day, Jones tweeted a thread exposing Coughlin that included these comments:

A thread. The Telegraph’s Defence Editor churns out Saudi propaganda after going to a Saudi party.

He is married to Katherine Bergen who worked for Meade Hall & Associates, paid lobbyists for Bahrain’s dictatorship, which was propped up by a 2011 Saudi invasion.

Katherine Bergen is a former journalist who wrote pro-Bahrain propaganda for publications ranging from The Daily Mail to Standpoint Magazine.

Con Coughlin himself has a history of churning out pro-Bahrain propaganda. In a now deleted Telegraph blog headlined “Why is Britain harbouring Bahrain’s dissidents?” (referred to in the book Oil States in the New Middle East) he fawns over Bahrain’s ruling dictator.

Con Coughlin’s output on Saudi Arabia is ludicrously Pravda-esque fawning. Scan through the articles he’s written here: it is beyond belief. Seriously, have a sickbag ready.

Here is a fawning interview Coughlin conducted with Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud in March, who he describes as a “human dynamo”. He concludes: “With this young royal at the helm, Saudi Arabia’s future prospects clearly know no bounds.”

All Coughlin does is churn out Saudi propaganda and Saudi talking points. Check this out when Saudi Arabia and its allies clashed with Qatar. Is this news reporting, or a de facto press release Saudi Arabia might as well have written?

Having described Coughlin’s role in promoting Saudi propaganda, Jones turned to other areas:

A 2000 article reveals Coughlin was fed material by MI6 for years, which he then turned into Telegraph news articles. One false story fed to him by MI6 about Saif Gaddafi led to the Sunday Telegraph apologising for libel ( …)

Stories published by Con Coughlin include a front page splash: ‘TERRORIST BEHIND SEPTEMBER 11 STRIKE WAS TRAINED BY SADDAM’. It was based on a forged letter which had been fed to him.’

Con Coughlin went on NBC to tell viewers that the (forged) letter was “really concrete proof that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam”. This false claim was invaluable: it justified one of the Bush administration’s false pretexts for the invasion of Iraq.

As his “story” fell apart, Coughlin said: there’s “no way of verifying it. It’s our job as journalists to air these things and see what happens.” Errrrr.

A book by Pulizter-winning journalist Ron Suskind claims the Bush administration forged the evidence.

Jones unsubtly hinted at Coughlin’s true role:

According to Suskind, Coughlin was “a journalist whom the Bush administration thinks very highly of” and was “a favourite of neoconservatives in the U.S. government.” Suskind says Coughlin got the letter from the former CIA and MI6 agent, former Iraqi exile Ayad Allawi.

Remember the discredited 45 minute claim? Conveniently after the invasion of Iraq Coughlin went to Iraq and found a source who claimed it was “200 per cent accurate.” I’m sure that the scandal-hit British intelligence services were delighted.

In our media alert of November 4, 2004, we noted that, having worked hard to pave the propaganda way to war on Iraq, Coughlin later worked hard to justify this terrible crime. In June 2003, under the title, ‘So what if Saddam’s deadly arsenal is never found? The war was just,’ he wrote in the Telegraph:

Another day and another mass grave is unearthed in Iraq.

He added:

So many of these harrowing sites have been uncovered in the two months since Saddam’s overthrow that even the experts are starting to lose count of just how many atrocities were committed by the Iraqi dictator’s henchmen… If this were Kosovo, the Government would be under fire for not having acted sooner to prevent the genocide.

His conclusion:

Having just returned from three weeks in post-liberation Iraq, I find it almost perverse that anyone should question the wisdom of removing Saddam from power.1

Commenting on Coughlin’s ‘reliance on unnamed intelligence sources in several far-fetched articles about Iran,’ the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) identified key features in reports filed by the Daily Telegraph’s then foreign editor:

Sources were unnamed or untraceable, often senior Western intelligence officials or senior Foreign Office officials.

Articles were published at sensitive and delicate times where there had been relatively positive diplomatic moves towards Iran.

Articles contained exclusive revelations about Iran combined with eye-catchingly controversial headlines.2

Jones emphasised the significance of his tweets:

Read through this thread, and bear this mind. Con Coughlin was Foreign Editor, and is now Defence Editor of one of Britain’s main broadsheet newspapers. He is treated as a respected journalist. What does this tell us about the British media?

As The Canary website noted, ‘After the revelations Con Coughlin had so little credibility left, he deleted his Twitter account.’

On October 17, Jones tweeted:

Con Coughlin has just had another load of shameless Saudi propaganda published by the @Telegraph, it is utterly remarkable

We responded:

Even more remarkable from ProQuest UK newspaper database, last 30 days:

“Your search for (Owen Jones) AND (Con Coughlin) found 0 results.”

Silence across the media “spectrum”.

In other words, no UK journalist anywhere had picked up on Jones’ damning comments on Coughlin. They had been ignored. In possibly Jones’ first ever positive response to us, he replied confidently, indicating that a Guardian article was on the way:

about to change this.

We retweeted this, taking Jones at his word. One week later, on October 24, he published an article in the Guardian titled, ‘Britain has sold its soul to the House of Saud. Shame on us’. So how much of Jones’ criticism of Coughlin had survived the attentions of the Guardian editors? The answer is contained in this single paragraph:

Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s defence correspondent, attended the National History Museum bash [hosted by the Saudi embassy], posting the next day an article accompanied by the tweet: “Was Jamal Khashoggi a liberal or a Muslim Brotherhood lackey who reviled the west?” He has written fawning interviews with Bin Salman, describing him as a “human dynamo” under whose rule “Saudi Arabia’s future prospects clearly know no bounds”.

Attending the Saudi bash was the least of the sins exposed by Jones, and the ‘fawning interviews’ are rather less damning than Coughlin acting as a conduit for MI6 propaganda. We wrote to Jones:

Owen, we absolutely loved your thread exposing Con Coughlin. But what happened to the promised Guardian article on this? I’m asking because you told us you were writing something on Oct 17. The piece then came out a week later on Oct 24 with almost all the meat missing. Did you run into internal opposition at the Guardian?3

We received no reply. Jones, of course, is not about to reveal what happened to his article. Perhaps the Guardian editors simply published what he submitted. One thing is clear: somehow, at some point, the filter bubble worked its magic and prevented a damning expose of a senior UK journalist reaching the Guardian’s readers.

In a tweet, Jones asked of the Coughlin case: ‘What does this tell us about the British media?’ Without the filter bubble, journalists would surely be asking exactly that question of ‘defence’ and ‘diplomatic’ journalism more generally.

The problem was indicated by one of the great Freudian slips of our time, supplied by a Fox News anchor on March 24, 1999, as Nato was preparing to wage war on Yugoslavia:

Let’s bring in our Pentagon spokesman – excuse me, our Pentagon correspondent.

In 2002, Michael Evans, The Times’ defence correspondent, reported:

Saddam Hussein has ordered hundred of his officials to conceal weapons of mass destruction components in their homes to evade the prying eyes of the United Nations inspectors.

This was fake news – Iraq’s WMD had been dismantled and destroyed by December 1998. In a guest media alert, ‘Hacks And Spooks’, Professor Richard Keeble, then Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln, described Evans’ comments as an example of ‘disinformation… spread by dodgy intelligence sources via gullible journalists’.

On the April 12, 2005 edition of the BBC’s Newsnight programme, diplomatic editor Mark Urban discussed the significance of a lessening of Iraqi attacks on US forces since January:

It is indeed the first real evidence that President Bush’s grand design of toppling a dictator and forcing a democracy into the heart of the Middle East could work.4

The claim that Bush aimed to create a democracy in the Middle East clashed impossibly with his actual grand design of controlling Iraq’s oil.

In 2011, the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, Julian Borger, anticipated a new report on Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency, with a piece titled ‘Iran “on threshold of nuclear weapon”‘. The accompanying photograph depicted a giant mushroom cloud from a nuclear weapons test. In fact, Iran had no nuclear weapons, nor even a nuclear weapons programme.

Why are defence editors, defence correspondents, diplomatic editors and the like so often biased in favour of the Western defence and diplomatic establishment they are covering? And why are they allowed to demonstrate this bias without anyone so much as commenting?

The filter bubble ensures that these questions can never be asked, much less answered.

  1. Con Coughlin, ‘So what if Saddam’s deadly arsenal is never found? The war was just,’ The Sunday Telegraph, June 1, 2003.
  2. Campaign Iran, ‘Press Watchdog slammed by “Dont Attack Iran” Campaigners,’ May 1, 2007.
  3. Direct message, Twitter, November 8, 2018.
  4. Urban, Newsnight, BBC2, April 12, 2005.