viewpoint highlights
breaking news
latest scott horton interviews

Posts by John Pilger

Silent About Gaza


A genocide is engulfing the people of Gaza while a silence engulfs its bystanders. "Some 1.4 million people, mostly children, are piled up in one of the most densely populated regions of the world, with no freedom of movement, no place to run, and no space to hide," wrote the senior UN relief official, Jan Egeland, and Jan Eliasson, then Swedish foreign minister, in Le Figaro. They described people "living in a cage," cut off by land, sea, and air, with no reliable power and little water, tortured by hunger, disease, and incessant attacks by Israeli troops and planes.

Egeland and Eliasson wrote this four months ago as an attempt to break the silence in Europe, whose obedient alliance with the United States and Israel has sought to reverse the democratic result that brought Hamas to power in last year's Palestinian elections. The horror in Gaza has since been compounded; a family of 18 has died beneath a 500-pound American/Israeli bomb; unarmed women have been mown down at point-blank range. Dr. David Halpin, one of the few Britons to break what he calls "this medieval siege," reported the killing of 57 children by artillery, rockets, and small arms and was shown evidence that civilians are Israel's true targets, as in Lebanon last summer. A friend in Gaza, Dr. Mona El-Farra, e-mailed: "I see the effects of the relentless sonic booms [a collective punishment by the Israeli air force] and artillery on my 13-year-old daughter. At night, she shivers with fear. Then both of us end up crouching on the floor. I try to make her feel safe, but when the bombs sound I flinch and scream…"

When I was last in Gaza, Dr. Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist, showed me the results of a remarkable survey. "The statistic I personally find unbearable," he said, "is that 99.4 percent of the children we studied suffer trauma. Once you look at the rates of exposure to trauma you see why: 99.2 percent of their homes were bombarded; 97.5 percent were exposed to tear gas; 96.6 percent witnessed shootings; 95.8 percent witnessed bombardment and funerals; almost a quarter saw family members injured or killed." Dr. Dahlan invited me to sit in on one of his clinics. There were 30 children, all of them traumatized. He gave each pencil and paper and asked them to draw. They drew pictures of grotesque acts of terror and of women streaming tears.

The excuse for the latest Israeli terror was the capture last June of an Israeli soldier, a member of an illegal occupation, by the Palestinian resistance. This was news. The kidnapping a few days earlier by Israel of two Palestinians – two of thousands taken over the years – was not news. A historian and two foreign journalists have reported the truth about Gaza. All three are Israelis. They are frequently called traitors. The historian Ilan Pappe has documented that "the genocidal policy [in Gaza] is not formulated in a vacuum" but part of Zionism's deliberate, historic ethnic cleansing. Gideon Levy and Amira Hass are reporters on the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. In November, Levy described how the people of Gaza were beginning to starve to death: "there are thousands of wounded, disabled, and shell-shocked people unable to receive any treatment… the shadows of human beings roam the ruins… they only know the [Israeli army] will return and what this will mean for them: more imprisonment in their homes for weeks, more death and destruction in monstrous proportions."

Amira Hass, who has lived in Gaza, describes it as a prison that shames her people. She recalls how her mother, Hannah, was being marched from a cattle-train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen on a summer's day in 1944. "[She] saw these German women looking at the prisoners, just looking," she wrote. "This image became very formative in my upbringing, this despicable 'looking from the side.'"

"Looking from the side" is what those of us do who are cowed into silence by the threat of being called anti-Semitic. Looking from the side is what too many Western Jews do, while those Jews who honor the humane traditions of Judaism and say, "Not in our name!" are abused as "self-despising." Looking from the side is what almost the entire U.S. Congress does, in thrall to or intimidated by a vicious Zionist "lobby." Looking from the side is what "evenhanded" journalists do as they excuse the lawlessness that is the source of Israeli atrocities and suppress the historic shifts in the Palestinian resistance, such as the implicit recognition of Israel by Hamas. The people of Gaza cry out for better.

Setting the Limits of
Invasion Journalism


On Nov. 14, Bridget Ash wrote to the BBC's Today program asking why the invasion of Iraq was described merely as "a conflict." She could not recall other bloody invasions reduced to "a conflict." She received this reply:

"Dear Bridget,

You may well disagree, but I think there's a big difference between the aggressive 'invasions' of dictators like Hitler and Saddam and the 'occupation,' however badly planned and executed, of a country for positive ends, as in the Coalition effort in Iraq.

Yours faithfully,
Roger Hermiston
Assistant Editor,

In demonstrating how censorship works in free societies and the double standard that props up the facade of "objectivity" and "impartiality," Roger Hermiston's polite profanity offers a valuable exhibit. An invasion is not an invasion if "we" do it, regardless of the lies that justified it and the contempt shown for international law. An occupation is not an occupation if "we" run it, no matter that the means to our "positive ends" require the violent deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, and an unnecessary sectarian tragedy. Those who euphemize these crimes are those Arthur Miller had in mind when he wrote: "The thought that the state … is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied." Miller might have been less charitable had he referred directly to those whose job it was to keep the record straight.

The ubiquity of Hermiston's view was illuminated the day before Bridget Ash wrote her letter. Buried at the bottom of page seven in the Guardian's media section was a report on an unprecedented study by the universities of Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds on the reporting leading up to and during the invasion of Iraq. This concluded that more than 80 percent of the media unerringly followed "the government line" and less than 12 percent challenged it. This unusual, and revealing, research is in the tradition of Daniel Hallin at the University of California, whose pioneering work on the reporting of Vietnam, The Uncensored War, saw off the myth that the supposedly liberal American media had undermined the war effort.

This myth became the justification for the modern era of government "spin" and the "embedding" (control) of journalists. Devised by the Pentagon, it was enthusiastically adopted by the Blair government. What Hallin showed – and was pretty clear at the time in Vietnam, I must say – was that while "liberal" media organizations such as the New York Times and CBS television were critical of the war's tactics and "mistakes," even exposing a few of its atrocities, they rarely challenged its positive motives – precisely Roger Hermiston's position on Iraq.

Language was, and is, crucial. The equivalent of the BBC's sanitized language in Iraq today is little different from America's "noble cause" in Vietnam, which was followed by the "tragedy" of America's "quagmire" – when the real tragedy was suffered by the Vietnamese. The word "invasion" was effectively banned. What has changed? Well, "collateral damage," the obscene euphemism invented in Vietnam for the killing of civilians, no longer requires quotation marks in a Guardian editorial.

What is refreshing about the new British study is its understanding of the corporate media's belief in and protection of the benign reputation of Western governments and their "positive motives" in Iraq, regardless of the demonstrable truth. Piers Robinson from the University of Manchester, who led the research team, says that the "humanitarian rationale" became the main justification for the invasion of Iraq and was echoed by journalists. "This is the new ideological imperative shaping the limits of the media," he says. "And the Blair government has been very effective at promoting it among liberal internationalists in the media." It was the 1999 Kosovo campaign, promoted by Blair and duly echoed as a "humanitarian intervention," that set the limits for modern invasion journalism.

The Kosovo adventure has long been exposed as a fraud that ridicules warnings of a "new genocide like the Holocaust," though little of this has been reported. It as if our long trail of blood is forever invisible, intellectually and morally. Certainly, it is time those who run media colleges began to alert future journalists to their insidious grooming.

Let's Now Charge the Accomplices


In a show trial whose theatrical climax was clearly timed to promote George W. Bush in the American midterm elections, Saddam Hussein was convicted and sentenced to hang. Drivel about "end of an era" and "a new start for Iraq" was promoted by the usual false moral accountants, who uttered not a word about bringing the tyrant's accomplices to justice. Why are these accomplices not being charged with aiding and abetting crimes against humanity?

Why isn't George Bush Sr. being charged?

In 1992, a congressional inquiry found that Bush as president had ordered a cover-up to conceal his secret support for Saddam and the illegal arms shipments being sent to Iraq via third countries. Missile technology was shipped to South Africa and Chile, then "on sold" to Iraq, while US Commerce Department records were falsified. Congressman Henry Gonzalez, chairman of the House of Representatives Banking Committee, said: "[We found that] Bush and his advisers financed, equipped, and succored the monster…."

Why isn't Douglas Hurd being charged? In 1981, as Britain's Foreign Office minister, Hurd traveled to Baghdad to sell Saddam a British Aerospace missile system and to "celebrate" the anniversary of Saddam's blood-soaked ascent to power. Why isn't his former cabinet colleague, Tony Newton, being charged? As Thatcher's trade secretary, Newton, within a month of Saddam gassing 5,000 Kurds at Halabja (news of which the Foreign Office tried to suppress), offered the mass murderer £340 million in export credits.

Why isn't Donald Rumsfeld being charged? In December 1983, Rumsfeld was in Baghdad to signal America's approval of Iraq's aggression against Iran. Rumsfeld was back in Baghdad on March 24, 1984, the day that the United Nations reported that Iraq had used mustard gas laced with a nerve agent against Iranian soldiers. Rumsfeld said nothing. A subsequent Senate report documented the transfer of the ingredients of biological weapons from a company in Maryland, licensed by the Commerce Department and approved by the State Department.

Why isn't Madeleine Albright being charged? As President Clinton's secretary of state, Albright enforced an unrelenting embargo on Iraq, which caused half a million "excess deaths" of children under the age of five. When asked on television if the children's deaths were a price worth paying, she replied, "We think the price is worth it."

Why isn't Peter Hain being charged? In 2001, as Foreign Office minister, Hain described as "gratuitous" the suggestion that he, along with other British politicians outspoken in their support of the deadly siege of Iraq, might find themselves summoned before the International Criminal Court. A report for the UN secretary general by a world authority on international law describes the embargo on Iraq in the 1990s as "unequivocally illegal under existing human rights law," a crime that "could raise questions under the Genocide Convention." Indeed, two past heads of the UN humanitarian mission in Iraq, both of them assistant secretary generals, resigned because the embargo was indeed genocidal. As of July 2002, more than $5 billion-worth of humanitarian supplies, approved by the UN Sanctions Committee and paid for by Iraq, were blocked by the Bush administration, backed by the Blair and Hain government. These included items related to food, health, water, and sanitation.

Above all, why aren't Blair and Bush Jr. being charged with "the paramount war crime," to quote the judges at Nuremberg and, recently, the chief American prosecutor – that is, unprovoked aggression against a defenseless country?

And why aren't those who spread and amplified propaganda that led to such epic suffering being charged? The New York Times reported as fact fabrications fed to its reporter by Iraqi exiles. These gave credibility to the White House's lies, and doubtless helped soften up public opinion to support an invasion. Over here, the BBC all but celebrated the invasion with its man in Downing Street congratulating Blair on being "conclusively right" on his assertion that he and Bush "would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath." The invasion, it is reliably estimated, has caused 655,000 "excess deaths," overwhelmingly civilians.

If none of these important people are called to account, there is clearly only justice for the victims of accredited "monsters."

Is that real or fake justice?


Busy Fondling Their Self-Esteem


The great Chilean balladeer Victor Jara, who was tortured to death by the regime of Gen. Pinochet 33 years ago, wrote a song that mocks those who see themselves as rational and liberal, yet so often retreat into the arms of authority, no matter its dishonesty and brutality to others. He sang:

"Come on over here
where the sun is nice and warm.
Yes, you, who have the habit
of jumping from one side to the other…
[Over there] you're nothing at all,
Neither fish nor fowl,
You're too busy fondling…
Your own self-esteem."

The past few weeks have seen a fiesta of these rational, liberal people who dominate British mainstream politics. For them, the most basic forms of morality and shame, the kind you learn as a child, have no place in public life. On Sept. 27, the Guardian published a front-page photograph of Tony Blair, a prima facie war criminal, his arms outstretched, his grin fixed. Beside this was a headline, "Charm and eloquence. But a missed chance." Beneath this, Polly Toynbee wrote: "There were some damp eyes dabbed with hankies and men blowing noses. 'Don't go,' someone said."

Consider such vomit against the facts of Blair's actual crime – the unprovoked invasion of a defenseless country, justified by lies now voluminously documented, and causing the violent deaths of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Indeed, according to a study published in The Lancet, the British medical journal, 655,000 civilians have died as a result of the Anglo-American invasion. The word "crime" is verboten among those about whom Victor Jara sang. To spell out the truth would illuminate the collusion of an entire political class. Instead, the shameless neither-fish-nor-fowl tribunes speak and write incessantly of a "mistake," a "blunder," even a Shakespearean tragedy (for the war criminal, not his victims). From their studios and editorial offices, they declare the mendacious and dishonest banalities of their unclad emperor "brilliant." Al-Qaeda, said Blair in his speech to the Labor Party conference, "killed 3,000 people including over 60 British on the streets of New York before war in Afghanistan or Iraq was even thought of." The breath is swept away by this one statement. Half a million infants lie dead, according to UNICEF, as a result of the Anglo-American siege of Iraq during the 1990s. For Blair and his rational, liberal, neither-fish-nor-fowl court, these children never lived and never died. Clearly, the Emperor Tony was a leader for his time and, above all, clubbable, whatever the "mistakes" he had made in Iraq.

A parallel world of truth and lies, morality and immorality dominates how the crime in Iraq is presented to us. In recent months, the invaders have vanished. The U.S., having murdered and cluster-bombed and napalmed and phosphorus-bombed, is now a wise referee between, even a protector of, "warring tribes." The buzzword is "sectarianism," blurring the truth that most of the attacks by the resistance are against the foreign military occupiers: on average, one every 15 minutes. That the majority of Iraqis, Sunni and Shia, are united in their demand that U.S. and British forces get out of their country now is of no interest. Has journalism ever been so voluntarily appropriated by black propaganda?

The confidence in the Blair regime that this propaganda will see them right (if not reelected) is expressed in striking ways. The former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, the epitome of neither-fish-nor-fowl, who supported a piratical attack on a Muslim country, now aims his liberal, rational remarks at the most vulnerable community in Britain, fully aware that the racist subtext of his words will be understood in "Middle England" and hopefully further what is left of his contemptible career. It was Straw who let Pinochet escape justice for fraudulent reasons of ill health. Victor Jara's song is an ode to Straw, and to the authoritarian, twice "retired" David Blunkett, now elevated by the Guardian as "one of the most brilliant, natural politicians," on a mission to ensure that a higher form of corruption, mass murder, does not blight "Tony's legacy."

The Tory leader, David Cameron, the former public relations man for the asset-stripper Michael Green, will follow this legacy, should he become prime minister. Standing on the Bournemouth seafront with his family, including three young children, he emphasized his support for the crime against the Iraqi people, whose children, says UNICEF, are now dying faster under Blair and Bush than under Saddam Hussein.

No News Is Slow News


When I began working as a journalist, there was something called "slow news." We would refer to "slow news days" when "nothing happened" – apart from, that is, triumphs and tragedies in faraway places where most of humanity lived. These were rarely reported, or the tragedies were dismissed as acts of nature, regardless of evidence to the contrary. The news value of whole societies was measured by their relationship with "us" in the West and their degree of compliance with, or hostility to, our authority. If they didn't measure up, they were slow news.

Few of these assumptions have changed. To sustain them, millions of people remain invisible, and expendable. On Sept. 11, 2001, while the world lamented the deaths of almost 3,000 people in the United States, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that more than 36,000 children had died from the effects of extreme poverty. They were very slow news.

Let's take a few recent examples and compare each with the regular news as seen on the BBC and elsewhere. Keep in mind that Palestinians are chronically slow news and that Israelis are regular news.

Regular news: Charles Clarke, a spokesman for Tony Blair, "revives the battle of Downing Street" and calls Gordon Brown "stupid, stupid" and a "control freak." He disapproves of the way Brown smiles. This is given saturation coverage.

Slow news: "A genocide is taking place in Gaza," warns Ilan Pappe, one of Israel's leading historians. "This morning … another three citizens of Gaza were killed and a whole family wounded. This is the morning reap; before the end of the day many more will be massacred."

Regular news: Blair visits the West Bank and Lebanon as a "peacemaker" and a "broker" between the Israeli prime minister and the "moderate" Palestinian president. Keeping a straight face, he warns against "grandstanding" and "apportioning blame."

Slow news: When the Israeli army attacked the West Bank in 2002, flattening homes, killing civilians, and trashing homes and museums, Blair was forewarned and gave "the green light." He was also warned about the recent Israeli attack on Gaza and on Lebanon.

Regular news: Blair tells Iran to heed the UN Security Council on "not going forward with a nuclear program."

Slow news: The Israeli attack on Lebanon was part of a sequence of carefully planned military operations, of which the next is Iran. U.S. forces are ready to destroy 10,000 targets. The U.S. and Israel contemplate the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iran, even though Iran's nuclear weapons program is nonexistent.

Regular news: "We have been making real progress in areas where the insurgency has been strongest," says a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.

Slow news: The U.S. military has lost all control over al-Anbar province, west of Baghdad, including the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi, which are now in the hands of the resistance. This means the U.S. has lost control of much of Iraq.

Regular news: "It is quite clear that real progress has been made [in Afghanistan]," says the Foreign Office.

Slow news: NATO pilots kill 13 Afghan civilians, including nine children, during an attack to "provide cover" for British troops based at Musa Kala in Helmand province.

Regular news: Blair is Labor's most successful prime minister, winning three landslide election victories in a row.

Slow news: In 1997, Tony Blair won fewer popular votes than John Major's Tories in 1992. In 2001, Blair won fewer popular votes than Neil Kinnock's Labor in 1992. In 2005, Blair won fewer popular votes than the Tories in 1997. The past two elections have produced the lowest turnouts since the franchise. Blair has the support of little over a fifth of the eligible British voting population.

Regular news: In the age of Blair "ideology has surrendered entirely to 'values' … there are no sacred cows [and] no fossilized limits to the ground over which the mind might range in search of a better Britain," wrote Hugo Young, the Guardian, 1997.

Slow news: "Nuremberg declared that aggressive war is the supreme international crime. They [Bush and Blair] should be tried along with Saddam Hussein," says Benjamin Ferencz, chief prosecutor of Nazi crimes at Nuremberg.