viewpoint highlights
breaking news
latest scott horton interviews

Posts by John Pilger

BBC Machinations


Shortly after the collapse of the Iraqi regime, the BBC's Today programme sent Andrew Gilligan to Baghdad. Gilligan's reports were unlike anything the BBC had broadcast. They contradicted the official Anglo-American line about "liberation" and made clear that, for a great many Iraqis, the invasion and occupation were at least as bad as life under Saddam Hussein.

This was heresy, prompting Alastair Campbell to move Gilligan to the top of his list of "rants," as Greg Dyke has described them. "Gullible Gilligan" was Campbell's term of abuse, which meant that the reporter was on to something. Like his subsequent report that the government had "sexed up" its Iraq dossier, Gilligan's conclusion was right, and has since been repeatedly proven right. There is no liberation in Iraq. There is a vicious colonial occupation. The government "sexed up" not one, but two dossiers.

Campbell's attacks were reminiscent of those orchestrated against other journalists who have distinguished themselves by departing from the script. For telling the truth about the carnage of Queen Victoria's favourite war, in the Crimea, the Times correspondent William Howard Russell was damned as a traitor. For revealing the human cost of the American bombing of North Vietnam in 1965, James Cameron was smeared as a "dupe of communism."

"When they call you a dupe," Cameron told me, "what they are really complaining about is that you are not their dupe." The BBC bought the exclusive rights to Cameron's film, then suppressed it; just as it suppressed The War Game, Peter Watkins's brilliant recreation of Britain under nuclear attack; just as it suppressed or doctored countless works that sought to explain the British war in Northern Ireland, such as Article 5, Brian Phelan's play about torture, and Colin Thomas's film City on the Border. Thomas was ordered by BBC chiefs to cut a scene which showed a gravestone that read, "Murdered by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday." He refused, and resigned.

A barrister called Brian Hutton, representing the Ministry of Defence, is remembered from the Bloody Sunday inquest in 1973 for his tirade at the coroner, who had dared suggest that the soldiers had no justification for shooting 13 people dead. "It is not for you or the jury," said Hutton, "to express such wide-ranging views, particularly when a most eminent judge has spent 20 days hearing evidence and come to a very different conclusion." The eminent judge was Lord Widgery who, as we now know, oversaw yet another gross miscarriage of justice. In the obsequious Hutton, Blair had the right man.

The parallel of Iraq with Ireland is instructive. Among those currently mentioned as a new BBC chairman is John Birt, the former director general made a lord by Blair. During the late 1980s, Birt decreed that the views of Irish Republican representatives could be broadcast only if an actor mimed their words. This was finally abandoned after a group of journalists (myself included) took such an abuse of freedom of speech all the way to the European Court.

The current exhumation of Birt may be a joke, but I doubt it. For in many ways Birt was an authentic voice of the BBC. He was a champion of what the more pompous at the BBC call "rigour." He demanded corporate discipline and built a Kafka-like bureaucracy to order. Will Wyatt, one of Birt's executives, has written the following about the current acting director-general, Mark Byford, another Birt man: "I expect him . . . to restore the level of rigour that existed under John Birt."

Ah, the "rigour." Not once was Blair called to account for the human cost of his sanctions policy in Iraq, let alone his invasion. Alastair Campbell was allowed to walk away from Newsnight without serious challenge to his preposterous "vindication" by Hutton.

How is this "rigour" viewed from afar? In the Australian Financial Review on 31 January, Brian Toohey, his country's most distinguished investigative journalist, recalled that Panorama on 23 September 2002 claimed to have "hard evidence" about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "It did no such thing," wrote Toohey.

"Instead, it presented a load of nonsense which bolstered the case for subsequent invasion. One of the programme's prime sources was an Iraqi, whom it described as 'credible'. The programme fell hook, line and sinker for his claim to know that a secret biological weapons laboratory existed under a major hospital in Baghdad [and] Panorama had the gall earlier this month to attack a BBC radio news item (Gilligan's), which correctly reported concerns among officials about the accuracy of British government dossiers on Iraq's WMDs."

That edition of Panorama was not untypical of the BBC's coverage of the build-up to the invasion, and the "war on terror," or indeed any war fought or supported by the British establishment in living memory. None of this is conspiratorial; it is a venerable tradition. Following the example set by the BBC's founder John Reith, who secretly wrote propaganda for Stanley Baldwin's Tory government during the General Strike, the hallowed principle of impartiality is invariably suspended when the establishment is threatened, especially when it decides to pursue its imperial tradition and join the United States in subverting other nations by violent or other means. By channelling and amplifying established agendas, devoted practitioners of "impartiality" minimise the culpability of governments, prime ministers and their allies.

It was hardly surprising that a recent German survey of the world's leading broadcasters' coverage of Iraq found that the BBC gave just 2 per cent to demonstrations of anti-war dissent – less than even American broadcasters – even though the demonstrators probably represented a majority of the British people.

This is the "rigour" whose recent lapse Wyatt and Byford lament. It is the rigour, as Robert Louis Stevenson put it, of "your sham impartialists, wolves in sheep's clothing, simpering honestly as they suppress." It is the rigour of false respect for a corrupt elite, of "that combination of mediocrity and ambition: death to the spirit," as the historian Norman Stone wrote.

There have always been honourable exceptions, and the emergence of one of them explains why the Blair gang became hysterical when Andrew Gilligan told the truth about their "liberation" of Iraq and a deception intended to cover their violence – a violence that took up to 55,000 lives, including 9,600 civilians: a violence that kills or injures 1,000 Iraqi children every month as a result of unexploded cluster bombs that the British military scattered in urban areas: a violence which has again contaminated much of Iraq with uranium. This crime, and this alone, is the single issue crying out to be reported with genuine rigour, not "inquired into" by yet another establishment panel clearing an exit for those responsible.

Blair's Mass Deception


In the wake of the Hutton fiasco, one truth remains unassailed: Tony Blair ordered an unprovoked invasion of another country on a totally false pretext, and that lies and deceptions manufactured in London and Washington caused the deaths of up to 55,000 Iraqis, including 9,600 civilians.

Consider for a moment those who have paid the price for Blair's and Bush's actions, who are rarely mentioned in the current media coverage. Deaths and injury of young children from unexploded British and American cluster bombs are put at 1,000 a month. The effect of uranium weapons used by Anglo-American forces – a weapon of mass destruction – is such that readings taken from Iraqi tanks destroyed by the British are so high that a British Army survey team wore white, full-body radiation suits, face masks and gloves. Iraqi children play on and around these tanks. British troops, says the Ministry of Defence, "will have access to biological monitoring."

Iraqis have no such access and no expert medical help; and thousands are now suffering from a related catalogue of miscarriages and hair loss, horrific eye, skin and respiratory problems.

Neither Britain nor America counts its Iraqi victims, and the fact, let alone the extent of the human carnage and material devastation is not even acknowledged by a government that says it is "vindicated" by Lord Hutton, whose report most British people clearly regard as a parody worthy of the Prime Minister's resignation.

Blair has now announced an inquiry into the "failure of intelligence" that has mysteriously denied him evidence of weapons of mass destruction, which he repeatedly said were his "aim" in attacking Iraq. Just as the brawl with the BBC and the Hutton inquiry were quite deliberate distractions, so this latest inquiry is another panic measure. It is clear that George W Bush, as one American journalist put it, "is now hanging Tony Blair out to dry."

Blair has, as ever, followed Bush. In announcing at the weekend his own inquiry into an "intelligence failure," Bush hopes to cast himself as an innocent, aggrieved member of the public wanting to know why America's numerous spy agencies did not alert the nation to the fact, now confirmed by Bush's own weapons inspector, David Kay, that there were no weapons of mass destruction and probably weren't any since before the 1991 Gulf War, and that the premise for going to war was "almost all wrong." "It was," Ray McGovern told me, "95 per cent charade." McGovern is a former high-ranking CIA analyst and one of a group of ex-senior intelligence officers, several of whom have described how the Bush administration demanded that intelligence be shaped to comply with political objectives, and the role of Britain in the charade.

"It was intelligence that was crap," a former intelligence officer told the New Yorker, "...but the brits wanted to plant stories in England and around the world." He described how "inactionable" (unreliable) intelligence reports were passed on to British intelligence, which then fed them to newspapers.

Former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter says this false information was spread systematically by British intelligence. The clue to this secret operation was given by the weapons expert David Kelly the day before his suicide and which Hutton later ignored. Kelly told the Prime Minister's intelligence and security committee: "I liaise with the Rockingham cell."

As Ritter reveals, this referred to the top secret "Operation Rockingham" set up within British intelligence to "cherry pick" information that might be distorted as "proof" of the existence of a weapons arsenal in Iraq. It was an entirely political operation, whose misinformation, says Ritter, led him and his inspectors "to a suspected ballistic missile site. We...found nothing. However, our act of searching allowed the US and the UK to say that the missiles existed."

Ritter says Operation Rockingham's bogus intelligence would have been fed to the Joint Intelligence Committee. The committee was behind the two "dossiers" in which Blair government claimed Saddam Hussein was a threat. Ritter says that Rockingham officers were acting on political orders "from the very highest levels."

How high? Right up to Blair himself? It was Blair, after all, who made such a personal "mission" of finding weapons of mass destruction. The question of how high needs urgently to be answered. Will Scott Ritter be called to Blair's inquiry? And will Blair explain to the inquiry why the February 2003 British "arms dossier," which Hutton chose to ignore, was so bogus that it plagiarised an American student's theses, lifting it word for word including the spelling mistakes?

The truth is that the Blair government has known, almost from the day it came to office in 1997, that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were almost certainly destroyed following the 1991 Gulf War – just as Bush's weapons expert, David Kay, has now confirmed.

What else did Blair know?

In February last year, a transcript of a leaked United Nations debriefing of Iraqi general Hussein Kamel, revealed that both the US and British governments must have known that Saddam Hussein no longer had weapons of mass destruction. General Kamel was no ordinary defector; he was Bush and Blair's star witness in their governments' case against Saddam. A son-in-law of the dictator, he had overall authority for Iraq's weapons' programmes, and defected with crates of documents.

When Secretary of State Colin Powell made the Anglo-American case for an attack on Iraq before the UN Security Council, he relied on and paid tribute to the reliability of General Kamel's evidence. What he did not reveal, as the transcript of the general's debriefing reveals, was this categorical statement by Kamel: "I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear – were destroyed."

The CIA and Britain's MI6 of course knew about this; and it beggars belief that Bush and Blair were not told. But neither of them let on – just as Colin Powell suppressed his informant's most sensational information, which would have contradicted all his spurious claims. General Kamel (who was later murdered by Saddam Hussein) corroborated Scott Ritter's statement that Iraq had been disarmed "90 to 95 per cent."

Iraq was attacked so that the United States and Britain could claim its oil and its assets. Only Mary Poppins would believe otherwise. For the latest in a catalogue of evidence, turn to the Wall Street Journal, the paper of America's ruling elite, which has obtained copies of the Bush administration's secret plan to privatise the country by selling off its assets to western corporations while establishing vast military bases.

The plan was drafted in February last year, just as Tony Blair was assuring the British people that the only reason was Saddam Hussein's "threat."

The Bush/Blair attack on Iraq has brought death, destruction and great bitterness to Iraq. Every indication is that most Iraqis now regard their lives as immeasurably worse than during Saddam Hussein's rule. More than 13,000 people are held in concentration camps in their own country.

This is many more than were incarcerated in Saddam's political prisons in recent years. None has been charged; most cannot see their families; the allegations of torture and brutality by the occupiers grow by the day. As the US-based Human Rights Watch reported last week, the worst atrocities were in the 1980s – when he was backed by America and Britain.

The uprising in Iraq has accelerated and almost certainly strengthened since the capture of Saddam. Drawn from 12 different groups, including those that were always anti-Saddam, the resistance is well organised and will not stop until the "coalition" leaves. The setting up of a puppet "democracy" will merely increase the number of targets. As Blair's knowledge of imperial history will tell him, this is precisely what happened in Britain's other colonies before they threw out their occupiers, and in Vietnam.

One piece of intelligence which was true and which we know Blair received is a report that warned him that an attack on Iraq would only increase worldwide terrorism, especially against British interests and citizens. He chose to ignore it.

Two weeks ago a panel of jurists called on the International Criminal Court to investigate the British government for war crimes in Iraq. Whether or not that succeeds, it is clear the Prime Minister will need to find another Hutton, and quickly.

Recalling Pol Pot's Terror, but Forgetting His Backers


"It is my duty," wrote the correspondent of the Times at the liberation of Belsen, "to describe something beyond the imagination of mankind." That was how I felt in the summer of 1979, arriving in Cambodia in the wake of Pol Pot's genocidal regime.

In the silent, gray humidity, Phnom Penh, the size of Manchester, was like a city that had sustained a nuclear cataclysm which had spared only the buildings. Houses, flats, offices, schools, hotels stood empty and open, as if vacated that day. Personal possessions lay trampled on a path; traffic lights were jammed on red. There was almost no power, and no water to drink. At the railway station, trains stood empty at various stages of interrupted departure. Several carriages had been set on fire and contained bodies on top of each other.

When the afternoon monsoon broke, the gutters were suddenly awash with paper; but this was money. The streets ran with money, much of it new and unused banknotes whose source, the National Bank of Cambodia, had been blown up by the Khmer Rouge as they retreated before the Vietnamese army. Inside, a pair of broken spectacles rested on an open ledger; I slipped and fell hard on a floor brittle with coins. Money was everywhere. In an abandoned Esso station, an old woman and three emaciated children squatted around a pot containing a mixture of roots and leaves, which bubbled over a fire fueled with paper money: thousands of snapping, crackling riel, brand-new from the De La Rue company in London.

With tiny swifts rising and falling almost to the ground the only movement, I walked along a narrow dirt road at the end of which was a former primary school called Tuol Sleng. During the Pol Pot years it was run by a kind of Gestapo, "S21," which divided the classrooms into a "torture unit" and an "interrogation unit." I found blood and tufts of hair still on the floor, where people had been mutilated on iron beds. Some 17,000 inmates had died a kind of slow death here: a fact not difficult to confirm because the killers photographed their victims before and after they tortured and killed them at mass graves on the edge of the city. Names and ages, height and weight were recorded. One room was filled to the ceiling with victims' clothes and shoes, including those of many children.

Unlike Belsen or Auschwitz, Tuol Sleng was primarily a political death center. Leading members of the Khmer Rouge movement, including those who formed an early resistance to Pol Pot, were murdered here, usually after "confessing" that they had worked for the CIA, the KGB, Hanoi: anything that would satisfy the residing paranoia. Whole families were confined in small cells, fettered to a single iron bar. Some slept naked on the stone floor. On a school blackboard was written:

  1. Speaking is absolutely forbidden.
  2. Before doing something, the authorization of the warden must be obtained.

"Doing something" might mean only changing position in the cell, and the transgressor would receive 20 to 30 strokes with a whip. Latrines were small ammunition boxes labeled "Made in USA." For upsetting a box of excrement the punishment was licking the floor with your tongue, torture or death, or all three.

This is described, perhaps as never before, in a remarkable documentary, S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, by Tuol Sleng's few survivors. The work of the Paris-based Khmer director Rithy Panh, the film has such power that, more than anything I have seen on Cambodia since I was there almost 25 years ago, it moved me deeply, evoking the dread and incredulity that was a presence then. Panh, whose parents died in Pol Pot's terror, succeeded in bringing together victims and torturers and murderers at Tuol Sleng, now a genocide museum.

Van Nath, a painter, is the principal survivor. He is gray-haired now; I cannot be sure, but I may have met him at the camp in 1979; certainly, a survivor told me his life had been saved when it was found he was a sculptor and he was put to work making busts of Pol Pot. The courage, dignity and patience of this man when, in the film, he confronts former torturers, "the ordinary and obscure journeymen of the genocide," as Panh calls them, is unforgettable.

The film has a singular aim: a confrontation, in the best sense, between the courage and determination of those like Nath, who want to understand, and the jailers, whose catharsis is barely beginning. There is Houy the deputy head of security, Khan the torturer, Thi who kept the registers, who all seem detached as they recall, almost wistfully, Khmer Rouge ideology; and there is Poeuv, indoctrinated as a guard at the age of 12 or 13. In one spellbinding sequence, he becomes robotic, as if seized by his memory and transported back. He shows us, with moronic precision, how he intimidated prisoners, fastened their handcuffs and shackles, gave or denied them food, ordered them to piss, threatening to beat them with "the club" if a drop fell on the floor. His actions confront all of us with the truth about human "cogs" in machines whose inventors and senior managers politely disclaim responsibility, like the still untried Khmer Rouge leaders and their foreign sponsors.

Panh, whose film-making is itself an act of courage, sees something positive in the mere act of bearing witness and, speaking of the prisoners, in "the resistance [that is] a form of dignity that is profoundly human." He refers to the "little things, these insubstantial details, so slight and fragile, which make us what we are. You can never entirely 'destroy' a human being. A trace always remains, even years later ... a refusal to accept humiliation can sometimes be conveyed by a look of defiance, a chin slightly raised, a refusal to capitulate under blows ... The photographs of certain prisoners and the confessions conserved at Tuol Sleng are there to remind us of it."

It seems almost disrespectful to take issue at this point; but one must. For too long Pol Pot and his gang have been an iconic horror show in the west, stripped of the reasons why. And this extraordinary film, it has to be said, adds little to the why. When Pol Pot died in his bed a few years ago, I was asked by a features editor to write about him. I said I would, but that the role of "civilized" governments in bringing him to power, sustaining his movement and rejuvenating it was a critical component. He wasn't interested.

The genocide in Cambodia did not begin on April 17 1975, "Year Zero." It began more than five years earlier when American bombers killed an estimated 600,000 Cambodians. Phosphorous and cluster bombs, napalm and dump bombs that left vast craters were dropped on a neutral country of peasant people and straw huts. In one six-month period in 1973, more tons of American bombs were dropped on Cambodia than were dropped on Japan during the second world war: the equivalent of five Hiroshimas. The regime of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger did this, secretly and illegally.

Unclassified CIA files leave little doubt that the bombing was the catalyst for Pol Pot's fanatics, who, before the inferno, had only minority support. Now, a stricken people rallied to them. In Panh's film, a torturer refers to the bombing as his reason for joining "the maquis": the Khmer Rouge. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot completed. And having been driven out by the Vietnamese, who came from the wrong side of the cold war, the Khmer Rouge were restored in Thailand by the Reagan administration, assisted by the Thatcher government, who invented a "coalition" to provide the cover for America's continuing war against Vietnam.

Thank you, Rithy Panh, for your brave film; what is needed now is a work as honest, which confronts "us" and relieves our amnesia about the part played by our respectable leaders in Cambodia's epic tragedy.

Power, Propaganda and Conscience in the War On Terror


I am a reporter, who values bearing witness. That is to say, I place paramount importance in the evidence of what I see, and hear, and sense to be the truth, or as close to the truth as possible. By comparing this evidence with the statements, and actions of those with power, I believe it’s possible to assess fairly how our world is controlled and divided, and manipulated – and how language and debate are distorted and a false consciousness developed.

When we speak of this in regard to totalitarian societies and dictatorships, we call it brainwashing: the conquest of minds. It’s a notion we almost never apply to our own societies. Let me give you an example. During the height of the cold war, a group of Soviet journalists were taken on an official tour of the United States. They watched TV; they read the newspapers; they listened to debates in Congress. To their astonishment, everything they heard was more or less the same. The news was the same. The opinions were the same, more or less. "How do you do it?" they asked their hosts. "In our country, to achieve this, we throw people in prison; we tear out their fingernails. Here, there’s none of that? What’s your secret?"

The secret is that the question is almost never raised. Or if it is raised, it’s more than likely dismissed as coming from the margins: from voices far outside the boundaries of what I would call our ‘metropolitan conversation’, whose terms of reference, and limits, are fixed by the media at one level, and by the discourse or silence of scholarship at another level. Behind both is a presiding corporate and political power.

A dozen years ago, I reported from East Timor, which was then occupied by the Indonesian dictatorship of General Suharto. I had to go there under cover, as reporters were not welcome – my informants were brave, ordinary people who confirmed, with their evidence and experience, that genocide had taken place in their country. I brought out meticulously hand-written documents, evidence that whole communities had been slaughtered – all of which we now know to be true.

We also know that vital material backing for a crime proportionally greater than the killing in Cambodia under Pol Pot had come from the West: principally the United States, Britain and Australia. On my return to London, and then to this country, I encountered a very different version. The media version was that General Suharto was a benign leader, who ran a sound economy and was a close ally. Indeed, prime minister Keating was said to regard him as a father figure.

He and Foreign Minister Gareth Evans made many laudatory speeches about Suharto, never mentioning – not once – that he had seized power as a result of what the CIA called "one of the worst massacres of the twentieth century." Nor did they mention that his special forces, known as Kopassus, were responsible for the terror and deaths of a quarter of the East Timorese population – 200,000 people, a figure confirmed in a study commissioned by the Foreign Affairs Committee of Federal Parliament.

Nor did they mention that these killers were trained by the Australian SAS not far from this auditorium, and that the Australian military establishment was integrated into Suharto’s violent campaign against the people of East Timor.

The evidence of atrocities, which I reported in my film Death of a Nation was heard and accepted by the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, but not by those with power in Australia. When I showed evidence of a second massacre near the Santa Cruz cemetery in November 1991, the foreign editor of the only national newspaper in this country, The Australian, mocked the eyewitnesses.

"The truth," wrote Greg Sheridan, "is that even genuine victims frequently concoct stories." The paper’s Jakarta correspondent, Patrick Walters, wrote that "no one is arrested [by Suharto] without proper legal procedures." The editor-in-chief, Paul Kelly, declared Suharto a "moderate" and that there was no alternative to his benign rule.

Paul Kelly sat on the board of the Australia-Indonesia Institute, a body funded by the Australian government. Not long before Suharto was overthrown by his own people, Kelly was in Jakarta, standing at Suharto’s side, introducing the mass murderer to a line of Australian editors. To his great credit, the then editor of the West Australian, Paul Murray, refused to join this obsequious group.

Not long ago, Paul Kelly was given a special award in the annual Walkley Awards for journalism – the kind they give to elder statesmen. And no one said anything about Indonesia and Suharto. Imagine a similar award going to Geoffrey Dawson, editor of the London Times in the 1930s. Like Kelly, he appeased a genocidal dictator, calling him a "moderate."

This episode is a metaphor for what I’d like to touch upon tonight.

For 15 years, a silence was maintained by the Australian government, the Australian media and Australian academics on the great crime and tragedy of East Timor. Moreover, this was an extension of the silence about the true circumstances of Suharto’s bloody ascent to power in the mid-sixties. It was not unlike the official silence in the Soviet Union on the bloody invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

The media’s silence I’ll discuss in a while. Let’s look now at the academic silence. One of the greatest acts of genocide in the second half of the twentieth century apparently did not warrant a single substantial academic case study, based on primary sources. Why? We have to go back to the years immediately after world war two when the study of post-war international politics, known as "liberal realism," was invented in the United States, largely with the sponsorship of those who designed American global economic power. They include the Ford, Carnegie and Rockeller Foundations, the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Thus, in the great American universities, scholars generally served to justify the cold war – which, we now know from declassified files, not only brought us closer to nuclear war than we thought, but was itself largely bogus. As the British files now make clear, there was no Soviet threat to the world. The threat was to Russia’s satellites, just as the United States threatened, invaded and controlled its satellites in Latin America.

"Liberal realism" – in America, Britain, Australia – meant taking the humanity out of the study of nations and viewing the world in terms of its usefulness to western power. This was presented in a self-serving jargon: a Masonic-like language in thrall to the dominant power. Typical of the jargon were labels.

Of all the labels applied to me, the most interesting is that I am ‘neo-idealist’. The ‘neo’ but has yet to be explained. I should add here that the most hilarious label is the creation of the foreign editor of The Australian who took a whole page in his newspaper to say that a subversive movement called Chomskyist-Pilgerism was inspiring would-be terrorists throughout the world.

During the 1990s, whole societies were laid out for autopsy and identified as "failed states" and "rogue states," requiring "humanitarian intervention." Other euphemisms became fashionable – "good governance" and "third way" were adopted by the liberal realist school, which handed out labels to its heroes. Bill Clinton, the president who destroyed the last of the Roosevelt reforms, was labelled "left of centre."

Noble words like democracy, freedom, independence, reform were emptied of their meaning and taken into the service of the World Bank, the IMF and that amorphous thing called "The West" – in other words, imperialism.

Of course, imperialism was the word the realists dared not write or speak, almost as if it had been struck from the dictionary. And yet imperialism was the ideology behind their euphemisms. And need I remind you of the fate of people under imperialism. Throughout 20th century imperialism, the authorities of Britain, Belgium and France gassed, bombed and massacred indigenous populations from Sudan to Iraq, Nigeria to Palestine, India to Malaya, Algeria to the Congo. And yet imperialism only got its bad name when Hitler decided he, too, was an imperialist.

So, after the war, new concepts had to be invented, indeed a whole lexicon and discourse created, as the new imperial superpower, the United States, didn’t wish to be associated with the bad old days of European power. The American cult of anti-communism filled this void most effectively; however, when the Soviet Union suddenly collapsed and the cold war was over, a new threat had to be found.

At first, there was the "war on drugs" – and the Bogeyman Theory of History is still popular. But neither can compare with the "war on terror" which arrived with September 11, 2001. Last year, I reported the "war on terror" from Afghanistan. Like East Timor, events I witnessed bore almost no relation to the way they were represented in free societies, especially Australia.

The American attack on Afghanistan in 2001 was reported as a liberation. But the evidence on the ground is that, for 95 per cent of the people, there is no liberation. The Taliban have been merely exchanged for a group of American funded warlords, rapists, murderers and war criminals – terrorists by any measure: the very people whom President Carter secretly armed and the CIA trained for almost 20 years.

One of the most powerful warlords is General Rashid Dostum. General Dostum was visited by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, who came to express his gratitude. He called the general a "thoughtful" man and congratulated him on his part in the war on terror. This is the same General Dostum in whose custody 4,000 prisoners died terrible deaths just over two years ago – the allegations are that wounded men were left to suffocate and bleed to death in containers. Mary Robinson, when she was the UN’s senior humanitarian representative, called for an inquiry; but there was none for this kind of acceptable terrorism. The general is the face of the new Afghanistan you don’t see in the media.

What you see is the urbane Harmid Karzai, whose writ barely extends beyond his 42 American bodyguards. Only the Taliban seem to excite the indignation of our political leaders and media. Yet under the new, approved regime, women still wear the burqua, largely because they fear to walk down the street. Girls are routinely abducted, raped, murdered.

Like the Suharto dictatorship, these warlords are our official friends, whereas the Taliban were our official enemies. The distinction is important, because the victims of our official friends are worthy of our care and concern, whereas the victims of our official enemies are not. That is the principle upon which totalitarian regimes run their domestic propaganda. And that, basically, is how western democracies, like Australia, run theirs.

The difference is that in totalitarian societies, people take for granted that their governments lie to them: that their journalists are mere functionaries, that their academics are quiet and complicit. So people in these countries adjust accordingly. They learn to read between the lines. They rely on a flourishing underground. Their writers and playwrights write coded works, as in Poland and Czechoslovakia during the cold war.

A Czech friend, a novelist, told me; "You in the West are disadvantaged. You have your myths about freedom of information, but you have yet to acquire the skill of deciphering: of reading between the lines. One day, you will need it."

That day has come. The so-called war on terror is the greatest threat to all of us since the most dangerous years of the cold war. Rapacious, imperial America has found its new "red scare." Every day now, officially manipulated fear and paranoia are exported to our shores – air marshals, finger printing, a directive on how many people can queue for the toilet on a Qantas jet flying to Los Angeles.

The totalitarian impulses that have long existed in America are now in full cry. Go back to the 1950s, the McCarthy years, and the echoes today are all too familiar – the hysteria; the assault on the Bill of Rights; a war based on lies and deception. Just as in the 1950s, the virus has spread to America’s intellectual satellites, notably Australia.

Last week, the Howard government announced it would implement US-style immigration procedures, fingerprinting people when they arrived. The Sydney Morning Herald reported this as government measures to "tighten its anti-terrorism net." No challenge there; no scepticism. News as propaganda.

How convenient it all is. The White Australia Policy is back as "homeland security" – yet another American term that institutionalises both paranoia and its bed-fellow, racism. Put simply, we are being brainwashed to believe that Al-Qaida, or any such group, is the real threat. And it isn’t. By a simple mathematical comparison of American terror and Al-Qaida terror, the latter is a lethal flea. In my lifetime, the United States has supported and trained and directed terrorists in Latin America, Africa, Asia. The toll of their victims is in the millions.

In the days before September 11, 2001, when America routinely attacked and terrorised weak states, and the victims were black and brown-skinned people in faraway places like Zaire and Guatemala, there were no headlines saying terrorism. But when the weak attacked the powerful, spectacularly on September 11, suddenly, there was terrorism.

This is not to say that the threat from al-Qaida is not real – It is very real now, thanks to American and British actions in Iraq, and the almost infantile support given by the Howard government. But the most pervasive, clear and present danger is that of which we are told nothing.

It is the danger posed by "our" governments – a danger suppressed by propaganda that casts "the West" as always benign: capable of misjudgment and blunder, yes, but never of high crime. The judgement at Nuremberg takes another view. This is what the judgement says; and remember, these words are the basis for almost 60 years of international law: "To initiate a war of aggression, it is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole"

In other words, there is no difference, in the principle of the law, between the action of the German regime in the late 1930s and the Americans in 2003. Fuelled by religious fanaticism, a corrupt Americanism and corporate greed, the Bush cabal is pursuing what the military historian Anatol Lieven calls "the classic modern strategy of an endangered right-wing oligarchy, which is to divert discontent into nationalism." Bush’s America, he warns, "has become a menace to itself and to mankind."

Those are rare words. I know of no Australian historian or any other so-called expert to have uttered such a truth. I know of no Australian media organisation that would allow its journalists to speak or write such a truth. My friends in Australian journalism whisper it, always in private. They even encourage outsiders, like myself, to say it publicly, as I am doing now.

Why? Well, a career, security – even fame and fortune – await those who propagate the crimes of official enemies. But a very different treatment awaits those who turn the mirror around. I’ve often wondered if George Orwell, in his great prophetic work 1984, about thought control in totalitarian states … I’ve often wondered what the reaction would have been had he addressed the more interesting question of thought control in relatively free societies. Would he have been appreciated and celebrated? Or would he have faced silence, even hostility?

Of all the western democracies, Australia is the most derivative and the most silent. Those who hold up a mirror are not welcome in the media. My work is syndicated and read widely around the world, but not in Australia, where I come from. However, I am mentioned in the Australian press quite frequently. The official commentators, who dominate the press, will refer critically to an article of mine they may have read in the Guardian or New Statesman in London. But Australian readers are not allowed to read the original, which must be filtered through the official commentators. But I do appear regularly in one Australian paper: the Hinterland Voice – a tiny free sheet, whose address is Post Office Kin Kin in Queensland. It’s a fine local paper. It has stories about garage sales and horses and the local scouts, and I’m proud to be part of it.

It’s the only paper in Australia in which I’ve been able to report the evidence of the disaster in Iraq – for example, that the attack on Iraq was planned from September 11; that only a few months earlier, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, had stated that Saddam Hussein was disarmed and no threat to anyone.

Today, the United States is currently training a Gestapo of 10,000 agents, commanded by the most ruthless, senior elements of Saddam Hussein’s secret police. The aim is to run the new puppet regime behind a pseudo-democratic façade – and to defeat the resistance. That information is vital to us, because the fate of the resistance in Iraq is vital to all our futures. For if the resistance fails, the Bush cabal will almost certainly attack another country – possibly North Korea, which is nuclear armed.

Just over a month ago, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a range of resolutions on disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. Remember the charade of Iraq’s WMDs? Remember John Howard in Parliament last February, saying that Saddam Hussein, "will emerge with his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons intact," and that it was "a massive programme."

In a speech lasting 30 minutes, Howard referred more than 30 times to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. And it was all a deception, wasn’t it, a lie, a terrible joke on the public, and it was channelled and amplified by an obedient media. And who in the universities, our power-houses of knowledge and criticism and debate – who stood up and objected? I can think of just two.

Nor can I find any report in the media of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions on 8th December. The outcome was remarkable, if not surprising. The United States opposed all the most important resolutions, including those dealing with nuclear weapons. In its secret Nuclear Posture Review for 2002, the Bush administration outlines contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against North Korea, and Syria, and Iran and China.

Following suit, a British government has announced for the first time that Britain will attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons "if necessary." Who among you is aware of these ambitions, and yet American and British intelligence facilities in this country are crucial to their implementation.

Why is there no public discussion about this? The answer is that Australia has become a microcosm of the self-censored society. In its current index of press freedom, the international monitoring organisation Reporters Without Borders lists Australian press freedom in 50th place, ahead only of autocracies and dictatorships. How did this come about?

In the nineteenth century, Australia had a press more fiercely independent than most countries. In 1880, in New South Wales alone, there were 143 independent titles, many of them with a campaigning style and editors who believed it was their duty to be the voice of the people. Today, of twelve principal newspapers in the capital cities, one man, Rupert Murdoch, controls seven. Of the ten Sunday newspapers, Murdoch has seven. In Adelaide and Brisbane, he has effectively a complete monopoly. He controls almost 70 per cent of capital city circulation. Perth has only one newspaper.

Sydney, the largest city, is dominated by Murdoch and by the Sydney Morning Herald, whose current editor in chief Mark Scott told a marketing conference in 2002 that journalism no longer needed smart and clever people. "They are not the answer," he said. The answer is people who can execute corporate strategy. In other words, mediocre minds, obedient minds.

The great American journalist Martha Gellhorn once stood up at a press conference and said: "Listen, we’re only real journalists when we’re not doing as we’re told. How else can we ever keep the record straight?" The late Alex Carey, the great Australian social scientist who pioneered the study of corporatism and propaganda, wrote that the three most significant political developments of the twentieth century were, "the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy."

Carey was describing the propaganda of 20th century imperialism, which is the propaganda of the corporate state. And contrary to myth, the state has not withered away; indeed, it has never been stronger. General Suharto was a corporate man – good for business. So his crimes were irrelevant, and the massacres of his own people and of the East Timorese were consigned to an Orwellian black hole. So effective is this historical censorship by omission that Suharto is currently being rehabilitated. In The Australian last October, Owen Harries described the Suharto period as a "golden era" and urged Australia to once again embrace the genocidal military of Indonesia.

Recently, Owen Harries gave the Boyer Lectures on the ABC. This is an extraordinary platform: in six episodes broadcast on Radio National, Harries asked whether the United States was benign or imperial. After some minor criticisms of American power, he described the foreign policy of the most dangerous administration in modern times as "utopian."

Who is Owen Harries? He was an adviser to the government of Malcolm Fraser. But in none of the publicity about his lectures have I read that Harries was also involved with a CIA-front propaganda organisation, the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its Australian offshoot. For years, Harries was an apologist for the cold war and the initial CIA-run attack on Vietnam. In Washington, he was editor of an extreme right wing journal called The National Interest.

No one would deny Owen Harries his voice in any democracy. But we should know who his former sponsors were. Moreover, it is his extreme view that is the one that dominates. That the ABC should provide him with such a platform tells us a great deal about the effects of the long-running political intimidation of our national broadcaster.

Consider, on the other hand, the ABC’s treatment of Richard Flanagan, one of our finest novelists. Last year, Flanagan was asked to read a favourite piece of fiction on a Radio National programme and explain his reasons for the choice. He decided on one of his favourite writers of fiction: John Howard. He listed Howard’s most famous fictions – that desperate refugees had willfully thrown their children overboard, and that Australia was endangered by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

He followed this with Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from Joyce’s Ulysses, because, he explained, "in our time of lies and hate it seems appropriate to be reminded of the beauty of saying yes to the chaos of truth." Well, all of this was duly recorded. But when the programme was broadcast, all references to the prime minister had been cut out. Flanagan accused the ABC of rank censorship. No, was the response. They just didn’t want "anything political." And this is the same ABC that has just given Owen Harries, the voice of George W Bush’s utopia, six one-hour broadcasts.

As for Richard Flanagan, that wasn’t the end of it. The ABC producer who had censored him asked if he would be interested in coming on a programme to discuss, "disillusionment in contemporary Australia." In a society that once prided itself on its laconic sense of irony, there was not even a hint of irony, just an obedient, managerial silence. "All around me," wrote Flanagan, "I see avenues for expression closing, and odd collusion of an ever-more cowed media and the way in which the powerful seek to dictate what is and what is not read and heard."

I believe those words speak for many Australians. Half a million of them converged on the centre of Sydney on February 16th, and this was repeated proportionally across the country. Ten Million marched across the world. People who had never protested before protested the fiction of Howard and of Bush and Blair.

If Australia is the microcosm, consider the destruction of free speech in the United States, which constitutionally has the freest press in the world. In 1983, the principal media in America was owned by fifty corporations. In 2002, this had fallen to just nine companies. Today, Murdoch’s Fox Television and four other conglomerates are on the verge of controlling 90 per cent of the terrestrial and cable audience. Even on the Internet, the leading twenty websites are now owned by Fox, Disney, AOL, Time Warner, Viacom and other giants. Just fourteen companies attract 60 per cent of all the time Americans spend online. And these companies control, or influence most of the world’s visual media, the principal source of information for most people.

"We are beginning to learn," wrote Edward Said in his book Culture and Imperialism, "that de-colonisation was not the termination of imperial relationships but merely the extending of a geo-political web that has been spinning since the Renaissance. The new media have the media to penetrate more deeply into a receiving culture than any previous manifestation of Western technology." Compared with a century ago, when "European culture was associated with a white man’s presence, we now have in addition an international media presence that insinuates itself over a fantastically wide range."

He was referring not only to news. Right across the media, children are remorselessly targeted by big business propaganda, commonly known as advertising. In the United States, some 30,000 commercial messages are targeted at children every year. The chief executive of one leading advertising company explained: "They aren’t children so much as evolving consumers." Public relations is the twin of advertising. In the last twenty years, the whole concept of PR has changed dramatically and is now an enormous propaganda industry. In the United Kingdom, it’s estimated that pre-packaged PR now accounts for half of the content of some major newspapers. The idea of "embedding" journalists with the US military during the invasion of Iraq came from public relations experts in the Pentagon, whose current strategic-planning literature describes journalism as part of psychological operations, or "psyops." Journalism as psyops.

The aim, says the Pentagon, is to achieve "information dominance" – which, in turn, is part of "full spectrum dominance" – the stated policy of the United States to control land, sea, space and information. They make no secret of it. It’s in the public domain.

Those journalists who go their own way, those like Martha Gellhorn and Robert Fisk, beware. The independent Arab TV organisation, Al-Jazeera, was bombed by the Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the invasion of Iraq, more journalists were killed than ever before – by the Americans. The message could not be clearer. The aim, eventually, is that there’ll be no distinction between information control and media. That’s to say: you won’t know the difference.

That alone is worthy of reflection by journalists: those who still believe, like Martha Gellhorn, that their duty is to keep the record straight. The choice is actually quite simple: they are truth-tellers, or, in the words of Edward Herman, they merely "normalise the unthinkable."

In Australia, so much of the unthinkable has already been normalised. Almost twelve years after Mabo, the basic rights of the first Australians, known as native title, have become ensnared in legal structures. The Aboriginal people now fight not just to survive. They face a constant war of legal attrition, fought by lawyers. The legal bill and associated costs in native title administration alone now runs into hundreds of million of dollars. Puggy Hunter, a West Australian Aboriginal leader, told me: "Fighting the lawyers for our birthright, fighting them every inch of the way, will kill me." He died soon afterwards, in his forties.

The High Court of Australia, once regarded as the last hope for the First Australians, now refers to native title as having a "bundle of rights" – as if Aboriginal rights can be sorted and graded – and downgraded.

The unthinkable is the way we allow the government to treat refugees, against whom our brave military is dispatched. In camps so bad that the United Nations inspector said he had never seen anything like them, we allow what amounts to child abuse.

On October 19th 2001, a boat carrying 397 people sank on its way to Australia. 353 drowned, many of them children. Were it not for a single individual, Tony Kevin, a retired Australian diplomat, this tragedy would have been consigned to oblivion. Thanks to him, we now know the Australian and military intelligence knew the boat was in grave danger of sinking, and did nothing. Is that surprising when the prime minister of Australia and the responsible minister have created such an atmosphere of hostility towards these defenceless people – a hostility designed, I believe, to tap the seam of racism that runs right through our history.

Consider the culpable loss of those lives against the pompous statements of Australian defence experts about our "sphere of influence" in Asia and the Pacific – that allows the Australian military to invade the Solomon’s, but not to save 353 lives.

Threats? Let’s talk about threats from asylum-seekers in leaking boats, from Al-Qaida. In its annual report for 1990, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation, ASIO, stated: "The only discernible threat of politically motivated violence comes from the racist right." I believe, regardless of subsequent events, nothing has changed.

All these matters are connected. They represent, at the very least, an assault on our intellect and our morality, yet even in our cultural life, we seem to turn away, as if frightened. Last week, I attended the opening of a new play in Sydney called "Harbour." It’s about the great struggle on the waterfront in 1998 which attracted extraordinary public support. The play is an act of neutering, its stereotypes and sentimentality make history acceptable. Those who can afford the $60-odd for a ticket will not be disappointed. The sponsors, Jaguar and Fairfax and a huge law firm, will not be disappointed.

We must reclaim our history from corporatism; for our history is rich and painful and, yes, proud. We should reclaim it from the John Howards and the Keith Windshuttles, who deny it, and from the polite people and their sponsors who neuter it. You will hear them say that Joe Blow doesn’t care – that as a people, we are apathetic and indifferent.

It was the thousands of Australians who went into the streets in 1999, in city after city, town after town, who decisively helped the people of East Timor – not John Howard, not General Cosgrove. And those Australians were not indifferent. It was the thousands of Australians and New Zealanders who stopped the French exploding their nuclear bombs in the Pacific. And they were not indifferent. It was the young people who travelled to Woomera and forced the closure of that disgraceful camp. And they were not indifferent.

The tragedy for many Australians seeking pride in the achievements of our nation is the suppression or the neutering, in popular culture, of a politically distinctive past, of which there is much to be proud. In the lead and silver mines of Broken Hill, the miners won the world’s first 35-hour a week, half a century ahead of Europe and America. Long before most of the world, Australia had a minimum wage, child benefits, pensions and the vote for women. By the 1960s, Australia could boast the most equitable spread of income in the western world. In spite of Howard and Ruddock, in my lifetime, Australia has been transformed from a second-hand Anglo-Irish society to one of the most culturally diverse and attractive on earth, and almost all of it has happened peacefully. Indifference had nothing to do with it.

I can almost hear a few of you saying, "OK, then what should we do?"

As Noam Chomsky recently pointed out, you almost never hear that question in the so-called developing world, where most of humanity struggles to live day by day. There, they’ll tell you what they are doing.

We have none of the life-and-death problems faced by, say, intellectuals in Turkey or campesinos in Brazil or Aboriginal people in our own third world. Perhaps too many of us believe that if we take action, then the solution will happen almost overnight. It will be easy and fast. Alas, it doesn’t work that way.

If you want to take direct action – and I believe we don’t have a choice now: such is the danger facing all of us – then it means hard work, dedication, commitment, just like those people in countries on the front line, who ought to be our inspiration. The people of Bolivia recently reclaimed their country from water and gas multinationals, and threw out the president who abused their trust. The people of Venezuela have, time and again, defended their democratically elected president against a ferocious campaign by an American-backed elite and the media it controls. In Brazil and Argentina, popular movements have made extraordinary progress – so much so that Latin America is no longer the vassal continent of Washington.

Even in Colombia, into which the United States has poured a fortune in order to shore up a vicious oligarchy, ordinary people – trade unionists, peasants, young people have fought back.

These are epic struggles you don’t read much about here. Then there’s what we call the anti-globalisation movement. Oh, I detest that word, because it’s much more than that. It’s is a remarkable response to poverty and injustice and war. It’s more diverse, more enterprising, more internationalist and more tolerant of difference than anything in the past, and it’s growing faster than ever.

In fact, it is now the democratic opposition in many countries. That is the very good news. For in spite of the propaganda campaign I have outlined, never in my lifetime have people all over the world demonstrated greater awareness of the political forces ranged against them and the possibilities of countering them. The notion of a representative democracy controlled from below where the representatives are not only elected but can be called truly to account, is as relevant today as it was when first put into practice in the Paris Commune 133 years ago. As for voting, yes, that’s a hard won gain. But the Chartists, who probably invented voting as we know it today, made clear that it was gain only when there was a clear, democratic choice. And there’s no clear, democratic choice now. We live in a single-ideology state in which two almost identical factions compete for our attention while promoting the fiction of their difference.

The writer Arundhati Roy described the outpouring of anti-war anger last year as "the most spectacular display of public morality the world has ever seen." That was just a beginning and a cause for optimism.

Why? Because I think a great many people are beginning to listen to that quality of humanity that is the antidote to rampant power and its bedfellow: racism. It’s called conscience. We all have it, and some are always moved to act upon it. Franz Kafka wrote: "You can hold back from the suffering of the world, you have free permission to do so and it is in accordance with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering that you could have avoided."

No doubt there are those who believe they can remain aloof – acclaimed writers who write only style, successful academics who remain quiet, respected jurists who retreat into arcane law and famous journalists who protest: "No one has ever told me what to say." George Orwell wrote: "Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks the whip. But the really well-trained dog is the one that turns somersaults when there is no whip."

For those members of our small, privileged and powerful elite, I recommend the words of Flaubert. "I have always tried to live in an ivory tower," he said, "but a tide of shit is beating its walls, threatening to undermine it." For the rest of us, I offer these words of Mahatma Gandhi: "First, they ignore," he said. "Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."

This was a speech given at UWA Extension Summer School Lecture Winthrop Hall, at the University of Western Australia on 12 January 2004.

What They Don't Want You to Know


The disaster in Iraq is rotting the Blairite establishment. Blair himself appears ever more removed from reality; his latest tomfoolery about the "discovery" of "a huge system of clandestine weapons laboratories," which even the American viceroy in Baghdad mocked, would be astonishing, were it not merely another of his vapid attempts to justify his crime against humanity. (His crime, and George Bush's, is clearly defined as "supreme" in the Nuremberg judgment.)

This is not what the guardians of the faith want you to know. Lord Hutton, who is due to report on the Kelly affair, will provide the most effective distraction, just as Lord Justice Scott did with his arms-to-Iraq report almost ten years ago, ensuring that the top echelon of the political class escaped criminal charges. Of course, it was not Hutton's "brief" to deal with the criminal slaughter in Iraq; he will spread the blame for one man's torment and death, having pointedly and scandalously chosen not to recall and cross-examine Blair, even though Blair revealed during his appearance before Hutton that he had lied in "emphatically" denying he had had anything to do with "outing" Dr. David Kelly.

Other guardians have been assiduously at work. The truth of public opposition to an illegal, unprovoked invasion, expressed in the biggest demonstration in modern history, is being urgently revised. In a valedictory piece on 30 December, the Guardian commentator and leader writer Martin Kettle wrote: "Opponents of the war may need to be reminded that public opinion currently approves of the invasion by nearly two to one."

A favorite source for this is a Guardian/ICM poll published on 18 November, the day Bush arrived in London, which was reported beneath the front-page headline "Protests begin but majority backs Bush visit as support for war surges." Out of 1,002 people contacted, just 426 said they welcomed Bush's visit, while the majority said they were opposed to it or did not know. As for support for the war "surging," the absurdly small number questioned still produced a majority that opposed the invasion.

Across the world, the "majority backs Bush" disinformation was seized upon – by William Shawcross on CNN ("The majority of the British people are glad he [Bush] came..."), by the equally warmongering William Safire in the New York Times and by the Murdoch press almost everywhere. Thus, the slaughter in Iraq, the destruction of democratic rights and civil liberties in the west and the preparation for the next invasion are "normalized."

In "The Banality of Evil," Edward S. Herman wrote, "Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on 'normalization'... There is usually a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with the direct brutalizing and killing done by one set of individuals... others working on improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive Napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace patterns). It is the function of the experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public."

Current "normalizing" is expressed succinctly by Kettle: "As 2003 draws to its close, it is surely al-Qaeda, rather than the repercussions of Iraq, that casts a darker shadow over Britain's future." How does he know this? The "mass of intelligence flowing across the Prime Minister's desk," of course! He calls this "cold-eyed realism," omitting to mention that the only credible intelligence "flowing across the Prime Minister's desk" was the common sense that an Anglo-American attack on Iraq would increase the threat from al-Qaeda.

What the normalizers don't want you to know is the nature and scale of the "coalition" crime in Iraq – which Kettle calls a "misjudgment" – and the true source of the worldwide threat. Outside the work of a few outstanding journalists prepared to go beyond the official compounds in Iraq, the extent of the human carnage and material devastation is barely acknowledged. For example, the effect of uranium weapons used by American and British forces is suppressed. Iraqi and foreign doctors report that radiation illnesses are common throughout Iraq, and troops have been warned not to approach contaminated sites. Readings taken from destroyed Iraqi tanks in British-controlled Basra are so high that a British army survey team wore white, full-body radiation suits, face masks and gloves. With nothing to warn them, Iraqi children play on and around the tanks.

Of the 10,000 Americans evacuated sick from Iraq, many have "mystery illnesses" not unlike those suffered by veterans of the first Gulf war. By mid-April last year, the US air force had deployed more than 19,000 guided weapons and 311,000 rounds of uranium A10 shells. According to a November 2003 study by the Uranium Medical Research Center, witnesses living next to Baghdad airport reported a huge death toll following one morning's attack from aerial bursts of thermobaric and fuel air bombs. Since then, a vast area has been "landscaped" by US earth movers, and fenced. Jo Wilding, a British human rights observer in Baghdad, has documented a catalogue of miscarriages, hair loss, and horrific eye, skin and respiratory problems among people living near the area. Yet the US and Britain steadfastly refuse to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct systematic monitoring tests for uranium contamination in Iraq. The Ministry of Defense, which has admitted that British tanks fired depleted uranium in and around Basra, says that British troops "will have access to biological monitoring." Iraqis have no such access and receive no specialist medical help.

According to the non-governmental organization Medact, between 21,700 and 55,000 Iraqis died between 20 March and 20 October last year. This includes up to 9,600 civilians. Deaths and injury of young children from unexploded cluster bombs are put at 1,000 a month. These are conservative estimates; the ripples of trauma throughout the society cannot be imagined. Neither the US nor Britain counts its Iraqi victims, whose epic suffering is "not relevant," according to a US State Department official – just as the slaughter of more than 200,000 Iraqis during and immediately after the 1991 Gulf war, calculated in a Medical Education Trust study, was "not relevant" and not news.

The normalizers are anxious that this terror is again not recognized (the BBC confines its use of "terrorism" and "atrocities" to the Iraqi resistance) and that the wider danger it represents throughout the world is overshadowed by the threat of al-Qaeda. William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, has attacked the antiwar movement for not joining Bush's "war on terror." He says "the left" must join Bush's campaign, even his "preemptive" wars, or risk – that word again – "irrelevance." This echoes other liberal normalizers who, by facing both ways, provide propaganda cover for rapacious power to expand its domain with "humanitarian interventions" – such as the bombing to death of some 3,000 civilians in Afghanistan and the swap of the Taliban for US-backed warlords, murderers and rapists known as "commanders."

Schulz's criticism ignores the truth in Amnesty's own studies. Amnesty USA reports that the Bush administration is harboring thousands of foreign torturers, including several mass murderers. By a simple mathematical comparison of American and al-Qaeda terror, the latter is a lethal flea. In the past 50 years, the US has supported and trained state terrorists in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The toll of their victims is in the millions. Again, the documentation is in Amnesty's files. The dictator Suharto's seizure of power in Indonesia was responsible for "one of the greatest mass murders of the 20th century," according to the CIA. The US supplied arms, logistics, intelligence and assassination lists. Britain supplied warships and black propaganda to cover the trail of blood. Scholars now put Suharto's victims in 1965–66 at almost a million; in East Timor, he oversaw the death of one-third of the population: 200,000 men, women and children.

Today, the mass murderer lives in sumptuous retirement in Jakarta, his billions safe in foreign banks. Unlike Saddam Hussein, an amateur by comparison, there will be no show trial for Suharto, who remained obediently within the US terror network. (One of Suharto's most outspoken protectors and apologists in the State Department during the 1980s was Paul Wolfowitz, the current "brains" behind Bush's aggression.)

In the sublime days before 11 September 2001, when the powerful were routinely attacking and terrorizing the weak, and those dying were black or brown-skinned non-people living in faraway places such as Zaire and Guatemala, there was no terrorism. When the weak attacked the powerful, spectacularly on 9/11, there was terrorism.

This is not to say the threat from al-Qaeda and other fanatical groups is not real; what the normalizers don't want you to know is that the most pervasive danger is posed by "our" governments, whose subordinates in journalism and scholarship cast always as benign: capable of misjudgment and blunder, never of high crime. Fueled by religious fanaticism, a corrupt Americanism and rampant corporate greed, the Bush cabal is pursuing what the military historian Anatol Lieven calls "the classic modern strategy of an endangered right-wing oligarchy, which is to divert mass discontent into nationalism," inspired by fear of lethal threats. Bush's America, he warns, "has become a menace to itself and to mankind."

The unspoken truth is that Blair, too, is a menace. "There never has been a time," said Blair in his address to the US Congress last year, "when the power of America was so necessary or so misunderstood or when, except in the most general sense, a study of history provides so little instruction for our present day." His fatuous dismissal of history was his way of warning us off the study of imperialism. He wants us to forget and to fail to recognize historically the "national security state" that he and Bush are erecting as a "necessary" alternative to democracy. The father of fascism, Benito Mussolini, understood this. "Modern fascism," he said, "should be properly called corporatism, since it is the merger of state, military and corporate power."

Bush, Blair and the normalizers now speak, almost with relish, of opening mass graves in Iraq. What they do not want you to know is that the largest mass graves are the result of a popular uprising that followed the 1991 Gulf war, in direct response to a call by President George Bush Sr. to "take matters into your own hands and force Saddam to step aside." So successful were the rebels initially that within days Saddam's rule had collapsed across the south. A new start for the people of Iraq seemed close at hand.

Then Washington, the tyrant's old paramour who had supplied him with $5bn worth of conventional arms, chemical and biological weapons and industrial technology, intervened just in time. The rebels suddenly found themselves confronted with the United States helping Saddam against them. US forces prevented them from reaching Iraqi arms depots. They denied them shelter, and gave Saddam's Republican Guard safe passage through US lines in order to attack the rebels. US helicopters circled overhead, observing, taking photographs, while Saddam's forces crushed the uprising. In the north, the same happened to the Kurdish insurrection. "The Americans did everything for Saddam," said the writer on the Middle East Said Aburish, "except join the fight on his side." Bush Sr. did not want a divided Iraq, certainly not a democratic Iraq. The New York Times commentator Thomas Friedman, a guard dog of US foreign policy, was more to the point. What Washington wanted was a successful coup by an "iron-fisted junta": Saddam without Saddam.

Nothing has changed. As Milan Rai documents in his new book, Regime Unchanged, the most senior and ruthless elements of Saddam's security network, the Mukha-barat, are now in the pay of the US and Britain, helping them to combat the resistance and recruit those who will run a puppet regime behind a facade. A CIA-run and -paid Gestapo of 10,000 will operate much as they did under Saddam. "What is happening in Iraq," writes Rai, "is re-Nazification... just as in Germany after the war."

Blair knows this and says nothing. Consider his unctuous words to British troops in Basra the other day about curtailing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Like so many of his deceptions, this covers the fact that his government has increased the export of weapons and military equipment to some of the most oppressive regimes on earth, such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Nepal. To oil-rich Saudi Arabia, home of most of the 11 September hijackers and friend of the Taliban, where women are tormented and people are executed for apostasy, go major British weapons systems, along with leg irons, gang chains, shock belts and shackles. To Indonesia, whose unreconstructed, blood-soaked military is trying to crush the independence movement in Aceh, go British "riot control" vehicles and Hawk fighter-bombers.

Bush and Blair have been crowing about Libya's capitulation on weapons of mass destruction it almost certainly did not have. This is the result, as Scott Ritter has written, of "coerced concessions given more as a means of buying time than through any spirit of true cooperation" – as Bush and Blair have undermined the very international law upon which real disarmament is based. On 8 December, the UN General Assembly voted on a range of resolutions on disarmament. The United States opposed all the most important ones, including those dealing with nuclear weapons. The Bush administration has contingency plans, spelt out in the Pentagon's 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, to use nuclear weapons against North Korea, Syria, Iran and China. Following suit, the UK Defense Secretary, Geoffrey Hoon, announced that for the first time, Britain would attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons "if necessary."

This is as it was 50 years ago when, according to declassified files, the British government collaborated with American plans to wage "preventive" atomic war against the Soviet Union. No public discussion was permitted; the unthinkable was normalized. Today, history is our warning that, once again, the true threat is close to home.

Copyright 2004 The New Statesman