The Quiet Death Of Freedom
By John Pilger
-- -- On Christmas Eve, I dropped in on Brian Haw,
whose hunched, pacing figure was just visible through the freezing
fog. For four and a half years, Brian has camped in Parliament
Square with a graphic display of photographs that show the terror
and suffering imposed on Iraqi children by British policies. The
effectiveness of his action was demonstrated last April when the
Blair government banned any expression of opposition within a kilometre of Parliament. The High Court subsequently ruled that,
because his presence preceded the ban, Brian was an exception.
Day after day, night after night, season upon season, he remains a
beacon, illuminating the great crime of Iraq and the cowardice of
the House of Commons. As we talked, two women brought him a
Christmas meal and mulled wine. They thanked him, shook his hand and
hurried on. He had never seen them before. "That's typical of the
public," he said. A man in a pin-striped suit and tie emerged from
the fog, carrying a small wreath. ""I intend to place this at the
Cenotaph and read out the names of the dead in Iraq," he said to
Brian, who cautioned him: "You'll spend the night in cells, mate."
We watched him stride off and lay his wreath. His head bowed, he
appeared to be whispering. Thirty years ago, I watched dissidents do
something similar outside the walls of the Kremlin.
As night had covered him, he was lucky. On 7 December, Maya Evans, a
vegan chef aged 25, was convicted of breaching the new Serious
Organised Crime and Police Act by reading aloud at the Cenotaph the
names of 97 British soldiers killed in Iraq. So serious was her
crime that it required 14 policemen in two vans to arrest her. She
was fined and given a criminal record for the rest of her life.
Freedom is dying.
Eighty-year-old John Catt served with the RAF in the Second World
War. Last September, he was stopped by police in Brighton for
wearing an "offensive" T-shirt, which suggested that Bush and Blair
be tried for war crimes. He was arrested under the Terrorism Act and
handcuffed, with his arms held behind his back. The official record
of the arrest says the "purpose" of searching him was "terrorism"
and the "grounds for intervention" were "carrying placard and
T-shirt with anti-Blair info" (sic).
He is awaiting trial.
Such cases compare with others that remain secret and beyond any
form of justice: those of the foreign nationals held at Belmarsh
prison, who have never been charged, let alone put on trial. They
are held "on suspicion". Some of the "evidence" against them,
whatever it is, the Blair government has now admitted, could have
been extracted under torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. They are
political prisoners in all but name. They face the prospect of being
spirited out of the country into the arms of a regime which may
torture them to death. Their isolated families, including children,
are quietly going mad.
And for what? From 11 September 2001 to 30 September 2005, a total
of 895 people were arrested in Britain under the Terrorism Act. Only
23 have been convicted of offences covered by the Act. As for real
terrorists, the identity of two of the 7 July bombers, including the
suspected mastermind, was known to MI5, and nothing was done. And
Blair wants to give them more power. Having helped to devastate
Iraq, he is now killing freedom in his own country.
Consider parallel events in the United States. Last October, an
American surgeon, loved by his patients, was punished with 22 years
in prison for founding a charity, Help the Needy, which helped
children in Iraq stricken by an economic and humanitarian blockade
imposed by America and Britain. In raising money for infants dying
Dr Rafil Dhafir broke a siege which, according to
Unicef, had caused the deaths of half a million under the age of
five. The then Attorney-General of the United States, John Ashcroft,
called Dr Dhafir, a Muslim, a "terrorist", a description mocked by
even the judge in his politically-motivated, travesty of a trial.
The Dhafir case is not extraordinary. In the same month, three US
Circuit Court judges ruled in favour of the Bush regime's "right" to
imprison an American citizen "indefinitely" without charging him
with a crime. This was the case of Joseph
Padilla, a petty criminal
who allegedly visited Pakistan before he was arrested at Chicago
airport three and a half years ago. He was never charged and no
evidence has ever been presented against him. Now mired in legal
complexity, the case puts George W Bush above the law and outlaws
the Bill of Rights. Indeed, on 14 November, the US Senate
effectively voted to ban habeas corpus by passing an amendment that
overturned a Supreme Court ruling allowing Guantanamo prisoners
access to a federal court. Thus, the touchstone of America's most
celebrated freedom was scrapped. Without habeas corpus, a government
can simply lock away its opponents and implement a dictatorship.
A related, insidious tyranny is being imposed across the world. For
all his troubles in Iraq, Bush has carried out the recommendations
of a Messianic conspiracy theory called the "Project for a New
American Century". Written by his ideological sponsors shortly
before he came to power, it foresaw his administration as a military
dictatorship behind a democratic fašade: "the cavalry on a new
American frontier" guided by a blend of paranoia and megalomania.
More than 700 American bases are now placed strategically in
compliant countries, notably at the gateways to the sources of
fossil fuels and encircling the Middle East and Central Asia.
"Pre-emptive" aggression is policy, including the use of nuclear
weapons. The chemical warfare industry has been reinvigorated.
Missile treaties have been torn up. Space has been militarised.
Global warming has been embraced. The powers of the president have
never been greater. The judicial system has been subverted, along
with civil liberties. The former senior CIA analyst Ray McGovern,
who once prepared the White House daily briefing, told me that the
authors of the PNAC and those now occupying positions of executive
power used to be known in Washington as "the crazies". He said, "We
should now be very worried about fascism".
In his epic acceptance of the Nobel Prize in Literature on 7
December, Harold Pinter spoke of "a vast tapestry of lies, upon
which we feed". He asked why "the systematic brutality, the
widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent
thought" of Stalinist Russia was well known in the west while
American state crimes were merely "superficially recorded, let alone
documented, let alone acknowledged".
A silence has reigned. Across the world, the extinction and
suffering of countless human beings can be attributed to rampant
American power, "but you wouldn't know it," said Pinter. "It never
happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it
wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest."
To its credit, the Guardian in London published every word of
Pinter's warning. To its shame, though unsurprising, the state
television broadcaster ignored it. All that Newsnight flatulence
about the arts, all that recycled preening for the cameras at Booker
prize-giving events, yet the BBC could not make room for Britain's
greatest living dramatist, so honoured, to tell the truth.
For the BBC, it simply never happened, just as the killing of half a
million children by America's medieval siege of Iraq during the
1990s never happened, just as the Dhafir and Padilla trials and the
Senate vote, banning freedom, never happened. The political
prisoners of Belmarsh barely exist; and a big, brave posse of
Metropolitan police never swept away Maya Evans as she publicly
grieved for British soldiers killed in the cause of nothing, except
Bereft of irony, but with a snigger, the BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce
introduced, as news, a Christmas propaganda film about Bush's dogs.
That happened. Now imagine Bruce reading the following: "Here is
delayed news, just in. From 1945 to 2005, the United States
attempted to overthrow 50 governments, many of them democracies, and
to crush 30 popular movements fighting tyrannical regimes. In the
process, 25 countries were bombed, causing the loss of several
million lives and the despair of millions more." (Thanks to William
Blum's Rogue State, Common Courage Press, 2005).
The icon of horror of Saddam Hussein's rule is a 1988 film of
petrified bodies in the Kurdish town of Halabja, killed in a
chemical weapons attack. The attack has been referred to a great
deal by Bush and Blair and the film shown a great deal by the BBC.
At the time, as I know from personal experience, the Foreign Office
tried to cover up the crime at Halabja. The Americans tried to blame
it on Iran. Today, in an age of images, there are no images of the
chemical weapons attack on Fallujah in November 2004. This allowed
the Americans to deny it until they were caught out recently by
investigators using the internet. For the BBC, American atrocities
simply do not happen.
In 1999, while filming in Washington and Iraq, I learned the true
scale of bombing in what the Americans and British then called
Iraq's "no fly zones". During the 18 months to 14 January, 1999, US
aircraft flew 24,000 combat missions over Iraq; almost every mission
was bombing or strafing. "We're down to the last outhouse," a US
official protested. "There are still some things left [to bomb], but
not many." That was six years ago. In recent months, the air assault
on Iraq has multiplied; the effect on the ground cannot be imagined.
For the BBC it has not happened.
The black farce extends to those pseudo-humanitarians in the media
and elsewhere, who themselves have never seen the effects of cluster
bombs and air-burst shells, yet continue to invoke the crimes of
Saddam to justify the the nightmare in Iraq and to protect a
quisling prime minister who has sold out his country and made the
world more dangerous. Curiously, some of them insist on describing
themselves as "liberals" and "left of centre", even "anti-fascists".
They want some respectability, I suppose. This is understandable,
given that the league table of carnage of Saddam Hussein was
overtaken long ago by that of their hero in Downing Street, who will
next support an attack on Iran.
This cannot change until we, in the west, look in the mirror and
confront the true aims and narcissism of the power applied in our
name: its extremes and terrorism. The traditional double-standard no
longer works; there are now millions like Brian Haw, Maya Evans,
John Catt and the man in the pin-striped suit, with his wreath.
Looking in the mirror means understanding that a violent and
undemocratic order is being imposed by those whose actions are
little different from the actions of fascists. The difference used
to be distance. Now they are bringing it home.
John Pilger's new book, Freedom Next Time, will be published in June
by Bantam Press.
First published in the New Statesman – www.newstatesman.co.uk
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