In 1992, Mark Higson, the Foreign Office official
responsible for Iraq, appeared before the Scott inquiry into the scandal of
arms sold illegally to Saddam Hussein. He described a "culture of lying"
at the heart of British foreign policymaking. I asked him how frequently ministers
and officials lied to parliament.
"It's systemic," he said. "The draft letters I wrote for
various ministers were saying that nothing had changed, the embargo on the
sale of arms to Iraq was the same."
"Was that true?" I asked.
"No, it wasn't true."
"And your superiors knew it wasn't true?"
"So how much truth did the public get?"
"The public got as much truth as we could squeeze out, given that we
told downright lies."
From British involvement with the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, to the
supply of warplanes to the Indonesian dictator Suharto, knowing he was bombing
civilians in East Timor, to the denial of vaccines and other humanitarian aid
to the children of Iraq, my experience with the Foreign Office is that Higson
was right and remains right.
As I write this, the dispossessed people of the Chagos Islands in the Indian
Ocean await the decision of the Law Lords, hoping for a repetition of four previous
judgments that their brutal expulsion to make way for a U.S. military base was
"outrageous," "illegal," and "repugnant." That
they must endure yet another appeal is thanks to the Foreign Office whose
legal adviser in 1968, one Anthony Ivall Aust (pronounced "oarst"
and since knighted), wrote a secret document headed "Maintaining the fiction."
This advised the then Labor government to "argue" the "fiction"
that the Chagossians were "only a floating population." Today, the
depopulated main island, Diego Garcia, over which the Union Jack flies, serves
the "war on terror" as an American interrogation and torture center.
When you bear this in mind, the U.S. presidential race becomes surreal. The
beatification of President Barack Obama is already under way; for it is he who
"challenges America to rise up [and] summon 'the better angels of our nature,'"
says Rolling Stone magazine, reminiscent of the mating calls of Guardian
writers to the "mystical" Blair. As ever, the Orwell Inversion Test
is necessary. Obama claims that his vast campaign wealth comes from small individual
donors, yet he has also received funds from some of the most notorious looters
on Wall Street. Moreover, the "dove" and "candidate of change"
has voted repeatedly to fund George W. Bush's rapacious wars, and now demands
more war in Afghanistan while he threatens to bomb Pakistan.
Dismissing the popular democracies in Latin America as a "vacuum"
to be filled by the United States, he has endorsed Colombia's "right to
strike terrorists who seek safe havens across its borders." Translated,
this means the "right" of the criminal regime in that country to invade
its neighbors, notably uppity Venezuela, on Washington's behalf. The British
human rights group Justice for Colombia has just published a study concerning
Anglo-American backing for the Colombian regime of Álvaro Uribe, which
is responsible for more than 90 percent of all cases of torture. The principal
torturers, the "security forces," are trained by the Americans and
the British. The Foreign Office replies that it is "improving the human
rights record of the military and combating drug trafficking." The study
finds not a shred of evidence to support this. Colombian officers with barbaric
records, such as those implicated in the murder of a trade union leader, are
welcomed to Britain for "seminars."
As in many parts of the world, the British role is that of subcontractor to
Washington. The bloody "Plan Colombia" was the design of Bill Clinton,
the last Democratic president and inspiration for Blair's and Brown's new Labor.
Clinton's administration was at least as violent as Bush's see UNICEF's
report that 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result of the Anglo-American blockade
in the 1990s.
The lesson learned is that no presidential candidate, least of all a Democrat
awash with money from America's "banksters," as Franklin Roosevelt
called them, can or will challenge a militarized system that controls and rewards
him. Obama's job is to present a benign, even progressive face that will revive
America's democratic pretensions, internationally and domestically, while ensuring
nothing of substance changes.
Among ordinary Americans desperate for a secure life, his skin color may help
him regain this unjustified "trust," even though it is of a similar
hue to that of Colin Powell, who lied to the United Nations for Bush and now
endorses Obama. As for the rest of us, is it not time we opened our eyes and
exercised our right not to be lied to, yet again?