Noam Chomsky has argued that dictatorships don’t require sophisticated propaganda – relying on force and threats. However if a small minority want to control the majority in a democracy they rely on very sophisticated propaganda.
President Bush recently made a televised address presenting the murders of Americans Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002 and Nick Berg in Iraq recently as examples of the terrorist brutality against which he claims the American and Israeli governments are allied. Both men were Jews, both were beheaded, and in both cases the murders were ascribed to Al Qa’ida. Who could defend such acts? - a rhetorical question – no-one. Even Hamas and Hizbollah condemned it.
For Bush and his supporters Berg’s murder supposedly puts in the shade the torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison by US forces which they claim was the result of a few soldiers out of control – and dismiss as mere ‘humiliation’ – despite the fact many Iraqis were tortured by beating – some to death. An investigation by British military police has found proof that photos of torture of Iraqis by British troops published by the Mirror newspaper are fakes – and so the British government and military also claim to be in the clear.
Similarly the Israeli government and military justify the killing of Palestinian civilians in Israeli invasions of the Gaza strip by pointing to murders of Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorists.
There are a few problems with these stories and justifications. The first and most obvious is that two wrongs don’t make a right. The others are that the facts as reported by independent observers and bodies don’t support the claims made by our governments and militaries.
In Berg’s case his family blame the Bush administration for their son’s death. While Nick Berg was a Bush supporter his father is an anti-Bush peace campaigner who has been named on American conservatives’ enemies list. Nick went to Iraq as a freelance communications engineer. He told his family he intended to be home by March 30th for a friend’s wedding. He was arrested by the US military on the 24th of April and held without access to a lawyer or a phone. An email from a US official to his family confirms this – as do Nick’s friends. Nick was only released on the 6th of April after his father took the Bush administration to court for unlawful detention of his son. Nick spoke to his family last on the 9th of April when he said he was travelling home. US officials were unco-operative when his family asked for help in locating him. His body was found in Baghdad over a month later after a video of his beheading by men who claim to be Islamic militants linked to Al Qa’ida was posted on a website on the 12th of May.
American officials have since produced various disinformation. They claim that Berg was never held by US forces – but by Iraqi police – a claim flatly denied by Baghdad police and contradicting their earlier admissions that they were holding him; that Berg (a Jew) had written ‘anti-semitic’ material ; that he refused to leave Iraq; and most bizarrely that in 1999 Berg’s email account had been used by some of the September 11th hijackers. At the very least the way US officials contradict themselves are suspicious – and had he not been detained by US troops he might have left Iraq sooner and lived.
Daniel Pearl was an American journalist investigating links between Pakistani military intelligence – the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency or ISI – and Al Qa’ida – especially the British (attempted) ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid. Such links certainly exist.The man convicted of planning the murder ‘Sheikh Omar’ is linked to both the ISI and Islamic fundamentalist groups. The ISI acted as the middle men between the CIA and Saudi intelligence and Mojahedin including Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s (2). By the 1990s and even, according to some Afghan sources up until 2001, the ISI co-operated with the CIA to support the Taliban (3). There are also worrying links between the ISI and parts of the CIA through the now defunct BCCI bank linked to a massive programme of exports of nuclear weapons secrets and technologies around the world. Most Pakistanis agree this could not have taken place without being overseen by the Pakistani military. Despite all this the Bush administration has exhonerated the ISI and increased aid and support to the government of Pakistan’s ‘President’ General Pervez Musharraff – who has been military dictator of Pakistan since a coup in 1999. According to intelligence expert Selig Harrison the CIA still has close links with the ISI.
Pearl was beheaded in Pakistan in April 2002 , with the murderers again making a video of the murder. His widow condemns his murderers – but says more violence is not the solution (1). Just as in the Berg case the Bush administration claimed Al Qa’ida were responsible. Yet the murderers called themselves ‘the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty’ and one of their demands was that a shipment of American F-16 jets to Pakistan which was blocked by the US Congress in 1998 be released. Strange demands if the killers were Al Qa’ida. Not so strange if they were Pakistani ISI.
As for torture at Abu Ghraib the internal US army report into the abuses found that US military intelligence was indeed ordering and condoning torture. Similar methods, also resulting in deaths in Afghan cases, have been employed by US forces at Bagram air base in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay. Pulitzer prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh found from discussions with CIA agents and US military lawyers (JAGs) that there is a covert programme of torture developed by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and authorised by President Bush himself. An American Military Intelligence Sergeant who claims at least ‘dozens’ of soldiers were involved in torture and that they were ordered to carry it out was threatened with prosecution himself if he continued to press his claims.
Reports by the Red Cross and Amnesty International show that torture is widespread among British and American forces. One of the regiments named is the Queen’s Lancashire – the same one the faked photos were supposedly of. Iraqi civilians and British and already been dealt with. The MoD’s ‘investigations’ involved the destruction of evidence and the dismissal of the death of Iraqis after two days and nights of beatings by British troops as ‘natural causes’ after fatal heart attacks resulted. Blair even claims neither he nor other government ministers saw International Committee of the Red Cross reports on torture by British forces. He has two choices here. Either he’s lying or he’s incompetent and not fit to be Prime Minister given that Amnesty International had also been raising the issue since July 2003.
Meanwhile in Gaza yet another offensive by Israeli forces is once again killing as many or more civilians as ‘terrorists’ – and creating more terrorists by convincing Palestinians the Israeli government won’t allow peace. The last major Israeli offensive – into the West Bank in 2002 - killed at least 497 Palestinians according to UN figures. The Israeli government and military claimed almost all the dead were armed combatants. According to Amnesty International at least 70 were children , while over 40% were civilians.
The current invasion is also killing many children. The Israeli military claim these are casualties of Palestinian home-made bombs which have detonated too early – but autopsies show most died of a single bullet wound to the head or back – consistent with Palestinian reports of killings by Israeli snipers.
On the 19th of May a Palestinian demonstration against the invasion of Gaza was fired on by Israeli forces. Tank shells and helicopter mounted missiles were used as ‘warning shots’ according to the Israeli Defence Forces. At least 10 unarmed Palestinians – most children - were killed. An Israeli military spokesman attempted to justify this atrocity by talking of the ‘terrorist’ threat from arms imported from Egypt from ‘tunnels’ from Gaza – and by pointing to the murder of Israeli settler Tali Hatuel and her four children by Palestinian gunmen a few weeks before. Finally there was the now familiar reference to Israel playing its part in ‘defending civilisation’ in ‘the war on terror’ (4).
One hundred and twenty thousand Israelis peace protesters disagreed, calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and an end to assassinations of Hamas leaders by the IDF. The Israelis and Palestinians demonstrating for peace have more in common than the killers on both sides who want to make them enemies. They know that atrocities by one side don’t justify atrocities by the other – and that murder and torture justified by rhetoric about the defence of freedom against terrorism is no better than murder or torture justified by any other kind of rhetoric – Islamic fundamentalism included.
Offline Sources –
(1) = Wisconsin State Journal 05-12-2004 , VICTIM'S WIFE: BREAK CYCLE OF VIOLENCE
(2) = Rashid , Ahmed(2001) Taliban Tauris,London ,2001 , p166
(3) = Rashid , Ahmed(2001) Taliban Tauris,London ,2001
(4) = Channel 4 News (UK) 19 May 2004