It used to be a standard mantra of Tony Blair’s speeches that “responsibility and rights” are indissolubly linked. It turns out that responsibility is for job-seekers and single parents, not for our ruling classes. Lord Butler has produced elegantly crafted paragraphs explaining that none of them need take responsibility for the biggest blunder in British foreign and security policy since Suez. What a shame that at the time Anthony Eden did not have a Lord Butler around to explain he was not responsible for his decision to invade.
Lord Butler told us yesterday that Tony Blair acted in good faith. So that’s all right then. At the al-Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad yesterday morning, there was blood on the walls, blood on the floor, blood on the doctors, blood on the stretchers. In the dangerous oven of Baghdad, 10 more lives had just ended. So what was it Tony Blair said in the Commons yesterday afternoon? “We are not killing civilians in Iraq; terrorists are killing civilians in Iraq.” So that’s all right then. Question: Are Baghdad and London on the same planet?
Tomorrow the Butler report will reopen the debate in the UK about who was to blame for the lies with which we went to war ? the government or the intelligence agencies. One thing the news networks will not be discussing is the culpability of the news networks. After this inquiry, we will need another one, whose purpose is to discover why journalists help governments to lie to the people. I don?t need to discuss the failings of the USA news networks, some of which could reasonably be described as components of the military-industrial complex. But the failures of the British media, and in particular the BBC, in the light of British academic research, require more explanation.
For one of the British establishment’s most reliable and well known figures to openly criticise the Prime Minister, and leader of his own Party, is bad news enough for Tony Blair. For one to publicly claim that the effective head of state is either a liar or profoundly incompetent would at one time be grounds for a public hanging, or a revolution. But in the week that the report is due for publication into British intelligence failures in the run up to the war against Iraq, the man who until recently was Leader of the House of Commons, and Foreign Secretary under Tony Blair himself has spoken out with his most damning indictment yet, of his leader and his government. Tony Blair, according to Sir Robin Cook, knew before the war that Iraq was no threat to the world. And he is either so forgetful and incompetent as to beggar belief, or he lied to Britain and the world about the threat from Saddam Hussein.
Fury is an entirely appropriate response to a system that sends young people to kill other young people in a war that never should have been waged. Yet the American right is forever trying to pathologize anger as something menacing and abnormal, dismissing war opponents as hateful and, the latest slur, “wild-eyed.” This is much harder to do when victims of wars begin to speak for themselves: No one questions the wildness in the eyes of a mother or father who has just lost a son or daughter, or the fury of a soldier who knows that he is being asked to kill and die needlessly. Many Iraqis who have lost loved ones to foreign aggression have responded by resisting the occupation. Now, victims are starting to organize themselves inside the countries that are waging the war.
One would hardly believe one’s eyes, but seemingly last Thursday saw the opening of the “trial of the century” - Saddam Hussein and cohorts hauled before a semester abroad version of Court TV. Dressed by his American captors in an “off-the- rack” suit conspicuously missing a necktie, rendered “suddenly ordinary” in the perceptive words of one of the few Western journalists permitted to attend, Hussein, against all odds, actually struck a few chords of sympathy around the Arab world. He tried to kill daddy, now junior will do away with him. To the decade-long debacle that future historians will doubtless see as the greatest political and financial scandal of our times the United States is bent on compounding the fleecing of Iraq with a travesty of justice that adds insult to injury upon ordinary Iraqis.
The news that Jewish historian Raphael Patai’s book The Arab Mind, a sex-obsessed cultural stereotyping of the Arabs, is considered a must-read by Washington neo-conservatives is not surprising. It is, after all, taught at the US Army War College, and its new edition has an introduction written by Colonel Norvell DeAtkine, whose academic specialties are listed as terrorism, urban warfare, and “operations other than war”. So I suppose it is also unsurprising that the book was apparently used as a field manual by US Army Intelligence in Abu Ghraib prison, whose interrogators inferred the bizarre lesson from Patai’s chapter on Arab sexual shame that recommends forced nakedness, transvestitism, and female-on-male sado-masochism as the best way to get Iraqi prisoners to cooperate and talk.
There was never any doubt what Gordon Gentle would end up doing when he left school. Both his mother’s brothers had served with the Royal Highland Fusiliers in Northern Ireland, and for the quiet, 6ft 2in Celtic fan it seemed there was never an alternative but to follow in their footsteps. School friends teased him over his military ambitions, saying he was too kind and good-natured to be a soldier. He was called Gentle, after all. But the teenager had the strength of character to ignore them, and enlisted with the regiment last year. On Wednesday, the same friends, who nicknamed him him “Soft”, will gather to honour a 19-year-old who joined the Army to see the world but ended up being the 60th and last British soldier to be killed in Iraq before the handover of power to the new Iraqi government.
It was only four months ago that the George W Bush embarked on an historic state visit to London, where the world once again witnessed superpowers taking upon themselves the self-proclaimed moral duty of ridding the world of WMD. They announced themselves as guardians and defenders of ‘innocent people everywhere’. But having unleashed a lethal onslaught of destruction against the people of Iraq in the name of guaranteeing security for the world, it has since transpired that no weapons of mass destruction have been found at all. The burning question has therefore become, was the attack legally justified? Is ‘intelligence’ a truly a sound basis for just war or simply a tool used to justify political objectives? And what criteria should be used to dictate who has the right to own weapons of mass destruction?
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