Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, June 02, 2006

We interrupt this blog . . .

to bring you this important rant. I promised to continue with the series on the sociology of mental illness today, but I'm afraid we'll have to put it off till Monday. Meanwhile, please do check the comments on the previous two posts -- they're smokin'. And thanks for your contributions.

Now, the rant. At long last, the snowy purity of God's Army, the United States military in Iraq is being questioned in the U.S. corporate media. Thanks in large part to the surprisingly admirable John Murtha, the massacre in Haditha last year made it to the front page and we have now been told to expect an honest accounting and accountability. We'll see. (I give credit to Time Magazine for its story a couple of months ago, but it never got legs until Murtha started speaking out.)

But the story that the media told us was that this was a bizarre aberration. By making this single incident a major story, and channeling the assurances that the Marine Corps will give justice to the Iraqi victims, they set out to prove the negative of the incident itself: that our carrying out a mission to make the Iraqi people free with unequaled honor and courage. Of course, there was grave concern that the regrettable failure of a few Marines to live up to the code of honor by which all other Marines live would anger Iraqis and set back the project of liberation. Then a very strange story came over the AP wire. Iraqis, it seemed, were strangely unmoved by this atrocity. The AP reporter told us that this was simply because there is so much death and destruction in Iraq, but that isn't exactly correct. It is because Iraqis already know that U.S. troops routinely murder Iraqi non-combatants.

Quite suddenly, the duly elected leadership of sovereign Iraq is saying the same thing. The Iraqi Ambassador to the United States, on national television, accused Marines of murdering his cousin. This quite astonishing event (suppose the Ambassador from, say, Britain, Japan, or India had done that?), it made scarcely a ripple. But today the Prime Minister -- the one that the U.S. insisted be appointed instead of the original choice of his parliamentary bloc -- told reporters that U.S. troops murder Iraqi civilians every day. "They crush them with their vehicles and shoot them just on suspicion," says Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. On this same day, the BBC publishes video supporting Iraqi accusations of a massacre in the town of Ishaqi in March of this year, in which Marines herded a family of 11 -- including 5 children -- into one room and then systematically shot them dead.

Now, the point of this rant may not be what you think. Am I outraged that my country invaded Iraq and then started slaughtering its citizens? Sure. But I started getting outraged about that as soon as I learned it was happening, which was around three years ago. I knew about Haditha and Ishaqi and a whole lot of other atrocities the day they happened, or soon after. It wasn't very hard for me to find out, either. They were reported by Reuters and Agence France Presse. I read about them in The Guardian, and in the work of intrepid reporters Dahr Jamail and Robert Fisk. The Ishaqi massacre was described for reporters by the Iraqi police -- those very police who we are supposedly standing up so we can stand down -- but because the U.S. military denied it, the claims of the duly constituted law enforcement authorities of sovereign Iraq were ignored by the news media in the United States.

I knew that U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq have contempt for the Iraqi people, and routinely treat them as subhuman, because it is one of the most widely known facts in the world. As a matter of fact, the New York Times, at least two years ago (I don't feel like tracking this down, but you will find it if you try) reported on its front page that soldiers routinely fired 50 caliber machine guns indiscriminately at people and vehicles who they felt approached too closely, or whenever they felt threatened or came under attack. They recounted numerous incidents in which innocent people were killed. There have been accounts here and there, from time to time, of families exterminated at military checkpoints. But it all just melted away like April snow. In December, British Special Air Services trooper Ben Griffin, an 8-year veteran of the armed forces with an exemplary record who had joined Britains most elite combat service in 2004, resigned. He told The Telegraph:

The Americans had a well-deserved reputation for being trigger happy. In the three months that I was in Iraq, the soldiers I served with never shot anybody. When you asked the Americans why they killed people, they would say 'we were up against the tough foreign fighters'. I didn't see any foreign fighters in the time I was over there.

I can remember coming in off one operation which took place outside Baghdad, where we had detained some civilians who were clearly not insurgents, they were innocent people. I couldn't understand why we had done this, so I said to my troop commander 'would we have behaved in the same way in the Balkans or Northern Ireland?' He shrugged his shoulders and said 'this is Iraq', and I thought 'and that makes it all right? As far as I was concerned that meant that because these people were a different colour or a different religion, they didn't count as much. You can not invade a country pretending to promote democracy and behave like that."

. . .

As far as the Americans were concerned, the Iraqi people were sub-human, untermenschen. You could almost split the Americans into two groups: ones who were complete crusaders, intent on killing Iraqis, and the others who were in Iraq because the Army was going to pay their college fees. They had no understanding or interest in the Arab culture. The Americans would talk to the Iraqis as if they were stupid and these weren't isolated cases, this was from the top down. There might be one or two enlightened officers who understood the situation a bit better but on the whole that was their general attitude. Their attitude fuelled the insurgency. I think the Iraqis detested them.

The British gave Griffin an honorable discharge, commending him for his exemplary service. They did not dispute his allegations. This remarkable act of moral courage got almost no attention in the United States.

It also happens to be true that anyone who read the European press -- freely available to Americans on the Internet, nowadays -- knew that the Bush Administration was lying about the threat posed by Saddam's alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction™. It was a simple matter to find out that every non-trivial assertion in Colin Powell's famous address to the Security Council was false, within two or three days. I'm not an expert on Iraq, or spycraft, but I learned that with no trouble at all, and nobody was paying me to be a journalist either. Yet recall the reaction of the corporate media in the U.S. -- Powell's case was absolutely unassailable.

Here's what we all need to understand. Facts leak in, they have to, but the narrative we are told by the corporate media in this country -- by all of the TV networks, the newspapers, the major news magazines -- is fiction. Facts leak in, and sometimes, as today, they burst the levees. But then the editors, and publishers, their blow-dried elocutionists and self adoring stenographers, just pump them back out and ignore them. They are liars. Habitually, intentionally, self-consciously, pathologically, they are lying to you.

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