Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 25 July 2010 21:54
Years ago, I wrote about the use of chemical weapons in the American assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004. I was attacked at the time for my "wild accusations" by many people, across the political spectrum, even by stalwart dissidents, who felt that such "exaggerations" undermined the "effectiveness" of the anti-war movement, preventing it from being taken "seriously" by the "serious" players in the power structure. Later, of course, American military officials -- and serving soldiers -- admitted using white phosphorus and other chemical weapons in the assault.
Over the years, small-scale medical studies have pointed to the horrific effects of these USA-WMD attacks. Now, a new comprehensive medical study has shown that the "dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukemia" in Fallujah since 2004 have "exceeded those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945," The Independent reports.
The Independent story follows up on an initial video report by top BBC journalist John Simpson last week -- a story that was almost universally ignored, not only in the fawning corporate press but also across the "dissident" blogosphere (except by a very few, such as Winter Patriot). Both stories make clear that the chief victims of the American WMD are, overwhelming, children:
Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.
Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.
Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that "to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened".
US Marines first besieged and bombarded Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, in April 2004 after four employees of the American security company Blackwater were killed and their bodies burned. After an eight-month stand-off, the Marines stormed the city in November using artillery and aerial bombing against rebel positions. US forces later admitted that they had employed white phosphorus as well as other munitions.
The background here is good as far as it goes, but it omits the salient point of that mutilation of American mercenaries; it followed a series of security shoot-em-ups that killed a number of innocent civilians in Fallujah. The attacks on the Blackwater mercenaries were a violent reprisal for murders committed by foreign agents in the midst of an illegal act of military aggression. But, as always, the American revenge for the attacks was vastly disproportionate: an entire city destroyed, thousands of people killed -- and generations of terrible suffering for innocent children -- all to get "payback" for four mercenaries.
The Independent continues:
In the assault US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops. British officers were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties. "During preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance operation, on one night over 40 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a small sector of the city," recalled Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British commander serving with the American forces in Baghdad.
He added that the US commander who ordered this devastating use of firepower did not consider it significant enough to mention it in his daily report to the US general in command. Dr Busby says that while he cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in some form. He said: "My guess is that they used a new weapon against buildings to break through walls and kill those inside."
The effects of these secret "wonder-weapons" were astounding:
The study, entitled "Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009", is by Dr Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, and concludes that anecdotal evidence of a sharp rise in cancer and congenital birth defects is correct. Infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1,000 births compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait. The report says that the types of cancer are "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium in the fallout".
Researchers found a 38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults. At Hiroshima survivors showed a 17-fold increase in leukaemia, but in Fallujah Dr Busby says what is striking is not only the greater prevalence of cancer but the speed with which it was affecting people.
Of particular significance was the finding that the sex ratio between newborn boys and girls had changed. In a normal population this is 1,050 boys born to 1,000 girls, but for those born from 2005 there was an 18 per cent drop in male births, so the ratio was 850 males to 1,000 females. The sex-ratio is an indicator of genetic damage that affects boys more than girls. A similar change in the sex-ratio was discovered after Hiroshima.
I have written about Fallujah over and over for a long time. In many respects, these stories are like the ones I've written about the American-abetted horrors in Somalia: no one gives a damn. Well, I don't give a damn that no gives a damn. I'm going to keep ringing this bell until my arm falls off. We -- Americans -- have committed and countenanced a great evil in Iraq. I can't change that -- and it's obvious that I cannot prevent the "continuity" of such hellish atrocities by the progressive Peace Laureate now in the White House, and by whatever similar blood-soaked poltroon comes to lead the never-ending Terror War for Loot and Power after him. But by god I will not let it be said that I stood by and failed to bear witness to this raging filth.
From 2004 (see original for links):
"The inferno…is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space." -- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities.
There is of course no space, nowhere to move or breathe in the sealed chamber of the American Infoglomerate – the vast entanglement of corporate media and government propaganda that smothers the body politic with hysterical outpourings of diversion, drivel and deadening white noise. Here, events occur in a total vacuum: they have no history, no context, no consequences. Stripped of the heft and scope of reality, they can easily be molded and distorted to fit the prevailing political and business agendas. Amnesia, ignorance, confusion and fear are left to rule the day: excellent fuel for the stokers of the inferno, who use the heat to work their alchemical magic – transforming human blood into gold.
"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable. Smoke is everywhere. It's hard to know how much people outside Fallujah are aware of what is going on here. There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying are from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."
This was a voice from the depths of the inferno: Fadhil Badrani, reporter for the BBC and Reuters, trapped in the iron encirclement along with tens of thousands of civilians. It was a rare breath of truth. The reality of a major city being ground into rubble was meant to be obscured by the Infoglomerate's wall of noise: murder trials, state visits, Cabinet shuffles, celebrity weddings – and, above all, the reports of "embedded" journalists shaping the "narrative" into its proper form: a magnificent feat of arms carried out with surgical precision against an enemy openly identified by American commanders as "Satan," the Associated Press reports.
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. ...
So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.
I will not forget Artica Salim. I will not forget Fallujah. I will not "move on." I will not become part of the inferno.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 13:35
Henry Miller once said that the purpose of the artist is to "inoculate the world with disillusionment." We are in desperate need of disillusionment today -- disillusionment on a vast scale, disillusionment as a constant discipline. Arthur Silber is one of the greatest such artists now at work, and he has just released a remarkable piece aimed at one the deadliest illusions of our time: the myth of American Exceptionalism. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you read the entire piece, but below are a few excerpts to highlight some of the salient points.
Silber writes of the poisonous effects of the all-pervasive, ever-hardening Exceptionalist myth that has such a death-grip on the American psyche. In some ways, of course, this myth is just a variant of the same kind of self-deluding trumpery that powerful nations and tribes have told themselves down through the centuries -- "We are special, we are superior, whatever we do is good and right, because we are the ones doing it, etc." You could find beliefs like this going back to Rome, to Babylon, to Sumer, probably all the way back to Çatalhöyük or the Blombos Cave.
But the longevity and universality of this pernicious mindset is in no way a mitigation of it. It does not reduce by one iota the responsibility -- the blood-guilt -- of any society that adheres to such a myth, and uses it to "justify" (indeed, celebrate) horrendous crimes. It is American Exceptionalism that we must deal with in our time. And although the belief of this particular bunch of bare, fork'd animals that they are special is nothing new, the gargantuan, ravenous military force that backs up this delusion is unprecedented in world history. It is only in its destructiveness, real and potential, that the American system is indeed exceptional.
Silber gives a cogent description of the American myth [and see his original essay for the many important links]:
In the most extreme (and, one could argue, most consistent) version of this [exceptionalist] tale, non-Western parts of the world are less than human -- and they are subhuman by choice. They are immoral, and sometimes even evil. Since we represent the good and they represent the evil, we are surely entitled to improve them, by invasion and bombing if necessary. If they do not threaten us today, they might at some indeterminate time in the future. And while we might kill many innocent civilians in our campaign of civilization, those who survive will be infinitely better off than they would have been otherwise. Besides, how "innocent" can any of them be -- since they are members of inferior, less than fully human civilizations, and since they are so by choice?
Silber then points out the sickening consequences of this nationalist fundamentalism:
With this belief system as the unchallengeable foundation, a vast number of Americans render themselves completely unable to recognize the devastating consequences of the American State's actions abroad. Whenever those consequences threaten to announce themselves in an unavoidable manner, most Americans will explicitly deny or avoid them through an endless variety of stratagems. When all else fails, their ultimate defense will be the cloaked restatement of the myth's message: the lives of those other people are simply not of the same value as our own. ...
A terrifyingly awful example of this phenomenon is the disappearance of the nightmarish tragedy of Iraq from our national conversation. Remember that Iraq never posed a serious threat to the United States, and that our leaders knew that it posed no such threat. Therefore, the U.S. invasion and occupation represent an ongoing series of war crimes. This is not an arguable point in any respect. Since it cannot be argued, it is ignored altogether.
Silber points to a devastating article by Patrick Cockburn, one of the most experienced and knowledgeable Western writers on Iraq:
American troops leave behind a country that is a barely floating wreck. Baghdad feels like a city under military occupation, with horrendous traffic jams caused by the 1,500 checkpoints and streets blocked off by miles of concrete blast walls that strangle communications within the city. The situation in Iraq is in many ways "better" than it was, but it could hardly be anything else, given that killings at their peak in 2006-2007 were running at about 3,000 a month. That said, Baghdad remains one of the most dangerous cities in the world, riskier to walk around than Kabul or Kandahar ...
Going back to Baghdad last month, after being away for some time, I was struck by how little had changed. The airport was still among the worst in the world. When I wanted to fly to Basra, Iraq's second biggest city and the centre of the oil industry, Iraqi Airways said they had only one flight during the week and they were none too certain when that would leave.
Violence may be down, but few of the 2 million Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria think it safe enough to go home. A further 1.5 million people are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), forced out of their homes by sectarian pogroms in 2006 and 2007 and too frightened to return. Of these, some half a million people try to survive in squatter camps which Refugees International describes as lacking "basic services, including water, sanitation and electricity, and built on precarious places – under bridges, alongside railroad tracks and amongst garbage dumps". A worrying fact about these camps is that the number of people in them should be shrinking as sectarian warfare ebbs, but in fact the IDP population is growing. These days refugees come to the camps not because of fear of the death squads but because of poverty, joblessness or because the prolonged drought is driving farmers off their land.
As Silber notes, Cockburn has much, much more on the fresh hell that America has inflicted on Iraq. This hell includes not only the million or more innocent people killed as a result of the American military aggression launched in 2003, but, as we noted here this week, the million or more innocent people killed by the American-directed sanctions against Iraq in the 12 years before the invasion.
Silber then goes on to make what is one of his most important observations: how the theoretical freedom of the press in the United States is used to impose a level of censorship on state crimes that the most hidebound totalitarian dictator might envy:
As deeply horrifying as these details [of Iraq's suffering] are, perhaps it is that these facts are not hidden or completely inaccessible that is most unsettling. What the U.S. has done -- death and ongoing suffering on a monumental scale, that "Iraq remains an extraordinarily violent place" and "is a barely floating wreck" -- can easily be known, if we seek to know the truth. Yet almost none of our leaders will acknowledge the smallest part of this truth, and most Americans are unaware of almost all of it. This reveals a notable danger in what is often held up as yet another singular virtue of the United States: that we have a "free" press, and that there is no official censorship. As a result, people believe that they do know the truth. After all, no one is being actively prevented from telling even unpleasant truths.
Such simplistic appeals to what is supposedly another aspect of American virtue disregard the complex operations of cultural "truths" that are widely accepted. It is almost impossible to imagine how official censorship could more successfully and comprehensively obliterate the actual truth. And I repeat: since people delude themselves that their leaders and media are telling them the truth, they feel no need to seek further for it. Moreover, facts such as those set forth by Cockburn, facts that are accessible to anyone if he wants to find them, have no reality for those whose identity and self-worth are critically tied to the myth of American exceptionalism. It is the myth that is real; facts that conflict with and undermine the myth rarely penetrate the consciousness of most Americans. Such facts are never admitted by those who would lead the American State.
Thus those who have been imbued from birth by the myth of American Exceptionalism become active collaborators in this censorship of state crime. It is actually a form of self-censorship. There is no need for the state to spend a lot of time and energy jailing or killing or silencing or even discrediting those who tell the unpleasant truth; most people, in their blind adherence to the myth, simply will not hear it. As Silber says:
...[M]yths which assume importance in the manner of the exceptionalist myth constitute life itself. It is crucial to appreciate that this is how it operates in psychological terms. In a contest between a belief system which provides identity and self-worth and facts which threaten that identity and self-worth, it is frequently the facts which many people choose to discard.
Occasionally, when the destructive (and self-destructive) effects of a belief system become sufficiently overwhelming, a person will decide to question and eventually dispense with the belief system. The process can be agonizingly difficult. Many people prefer to avoid it. Most of us are familiar with the tragic story of the individual who refuses to give up the myth that he still believes provides him consolation and meaning -- even when clinging to the myth leads to his own death. Countries can behave in the identical manner; history provides numerous examples of the same tragedy on a national scale.
In the murderous rampages of the Terror War (which its own practitioners confess are causing more terrorism), in the vast secret state of oprichniki and mercenaries that have swallowed the Republic, in the ever-more brazen dominance of our neo-feudal oligarchy (with its government retainers and its pathetic army of Tea Party serfs who worship the wealthy oppressors who are degrading their lives), in the thoroughly man-made "natural disasters" that are ravaging the environment, we are clearly seeing just such a national tragedy being played out before our eyes.
Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 25 July 2010 00:20
News from Blighty: the disparity in death rates between the well-off and the poor in the UK is now greater than at any time since 1921. The London Review of Books points to a new study by the British Medical Journal that shows that by 2007, "for every 100 people under the age of 65 dying in the best-off areas, 199 were dying in the poorest tenth of areas."
The Journal study said that the data suggest "it was only prolonged and enthusiastic state intervention" that kept the disparity from being greater. On the other hand, the elite-coddling market jihadism of the Clintonian-Obamaish "New Labour" government (or as the BMJ more politely puts it, "the prolonged state disengagement in promoting equality in outcome") helped stretch the yawning gap even further.
In other words, the few spare pence that the war criminals of the Labour government threw at the poor kept them from dying quite as fast as they would have done otherwise under the system of voracious corporate rapine that Labour entrenched and expanded after inheriting it from the Thatcherite Tories in 1997.
Now, even those few pence are being stripped away -- gleefully -- by what many say is the most extremist government Britain has ever seen, outstripping even Margaret Thatcher in the scope of its draconian cuts and the fervor of its market fundamentalism. The savage cutbacks and vast, churning upheavals being pushed through, at breakneck speed, by the new Conservative government (and its truly pathetic coalition "partner," the lapdog Lib Dems) will sends millions of people tumbling down into a permanent underclass -- and finally, after 60 years of trying, gut the national health service with a stealth "Americanization" that will turn the operation of local doctors' offices over to private firms (many of them from the US) and privatize public hospitals, allowing them to "fail" -- and close -- if they don't produce enough cash for their elite shareholders. Meanwhile, the schools are now in the hands of the arch-neocon Michael Gove, who is plotting with revisionist historian Niall Ferguson to impose a pro-Empire, pro-elite "national greatness" ideology on the young. Gove is also using "emergency" legislative procedures to strip public schools away from the oversight of democratically elected local government and put them into the hands of unaccountable corporations, religious groups and wealthy elites.
This Revolution of the Rich is being justified by a carefully crafted, constantly stoked panic about budget deficits, pointing to the example of the perpetually weak government and economy of Greece as a horror story to be avoided at all costs. Yet even if the Greek situation was as dire as the fearmongers make out, the fact remains that the cuts which the Tory-LapDog coalition is making in the much stronger, much more stable UK are actually far in excess than those being imposed upon Greece. As with the fearmongering about "Iraqi WMDs," the "dangers of the deficit" are being exaggerated -- and manufactured -- in order to put into place a pre-existing (and transatlantic) ideological agenda: neo-feudal oligarchism.
But in almost all of these measures, the Tory-LapDog government is only entrenching and expanding the "market-led reforms" imposed by New Labour. And "New Labour" was of course a close copy of the "New Democrats" of Bill Clinton and his clique of "triangulating" bagmen for Big Money -- scarcely distinguishable from the Reagan-Bush faction that preceded them, and then succeeded them in the Bush dynasty's second turn in the White House. And we all know that "continuity" is the byword of the Obama administration, which is chock-a-block with holdovers not only from strangulating triangulators of the Clinton era but also the imperial militarists from the two Bush reigns.
Thus for more than 30 years, the world-dominating Anglo-American alliance has been under the sway of factions which, for all their internal squabbling and hair-splitting, are strongly united in their steadfast, unshakeable adherence to the perpetuation -- and expansion -- of elite power and privilege. They have shown themselves willing -- eager -- to degrade their own societies (and destroy many others) in the service of this brutal, barbaric, inhuman faith. The poor have no place in this system, which is a retrograde, hi-tech, rhetorically sugarcoated revival of the laissez-faire fantasies of the past, as Jeremy Seabrook notes:
"Pauperism" long ago took on the colour of culpability. The distinction between the idle and improvident poor and the "deserving" goes back at least to the Elizabethan poor law. It took on a new force in the early industrial era, which saw an unprecedented growth in pauperism. The enthusiasts of laissez-faire concluded that the evil was compounded by efforts to relieve it, and helping the poor only increased their number. Everything indicated that "natural" processes should be allowed to take their course. .... In this version of the world, the market mechanism is as flawless a creation as the earth, and should remain untouched by the hand of meddlers, whose only effect is to upset its power to enrich us all. It is remarkable that the establishment of laissez-faire itself in the early 19th century required an enormous amount of government intervention and regulation ...
And so it is today. The "regulation" of the health care industry introduced by the Obama Administration is actually a gargantuan transfer of wealth, by force, from working people and the poor to a few huge corporations. The financial "regulation" signed into law is yet another sham that will leave the rapacious fools and fraudsters who brought down the global economy -- and triggered the convenient "deficit crisis" by demanding massive bailouts of public money for their private businesses -- at large and in charge of the world's finances. Meanwhile, more and more government regulations restrict the right of ordinary citizens to challenge the rich and powerful in court, or to register a public protest (herding them instead into the truly hideous "free speech zones") -- even as the state grants corporations extraordinary privileges to interfere with the political process with their vast resources and protects their leaders from personal accountability for the ravages they commit. The government "intervention and regulation" on behalf of the industries and elites who service the endlessly expanding symbiosis of corporate, military and 'security' power -- stretching even to the countenancing and cover-up of torture and murder -- is one of the defining elements of our age.
And as Glenn Ford notes, Obama is preparing to "regulate" the last tattered fragments of the social welfare system -- already decimated by the progressives' favorite good old boy, Bill Cinton -- right out of existence:
In April of this year, Obama once again reminded everyone that everything is and has always been "on the table," as far as he's concerned, including Social Security. His so-called "deficit commission" is stacked with rich sociopaths sharpening their knives to carve up, sell off or otherwise doom Social Security. It is a battle that safety net defenders thought they had won against George Bush. Barack Obama has picked up Bush's marbles and put them back into play. He is the right wing's most potent weapon, the one before which liberal Democrats throw up their hands in surrender without the dignity of a fight. Obama, working in plain sight over the past 18 months, has constructed and rigged a deficit commission to render a kind of death sentence to the foundational program of Roosevelt's New Deal.
This is the system -- the creed, the extremist faith -- that all "serious" players in all the "major" power faction on both sides of the Atlantic adhere to. Their god of greed demands human sacrifices: and so the poor must die. And to keep the system going, more and more people must be made poor: first those in the "outer darkness" of faraway lands, then finally those in the sacred "Homelands" themselves. We have been watching the latter process play out slowly in the past few decades -- but it is accelerating now at dizzying speed.
As I once noted of some our representative elites:
Perhaps if they could obtain these same privileges as easily by other, less horrific means, they would. As it is, they take the world as they find it, and go about their business without fretting over the consequences -- the dead, the ruined, the spreading hate, the poisoned planet. Why should they care? As the maggot cannot see beyond the meat, so too these [people] of greed-stunted understanding can see nothing of worth outside their own bottomless appetites.
*Corrected for typos.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 20 July 2010 00:14
In the last decade of the 20th century, a nation often hailed (not least by itself) as the "world's greatest democracy" directed a program of savage economic warfare against a broken, defenseless country. This blockade, carried out with an exacting bureaucratic coldness, killed, by very conservative estimate, at least one million innocent people. More than half of these victims were young children.
Dead children. Thousands of dead children. Tens of thousands of dead children, Hundreds of thousands of dead children. Mountains of dead children. Vast pestiferous slagheaps of dead children. This is what the world's greatest democracy created, deliberately, coldly, as a matter of carefully considered national policy.
The blockade was carried out for one reason only: to force out the broken country's recalcitrant leader, who had once been an ally and client of the world's greatest democracy but was no longer considered acquiescent enough to be allowed to govern his strategically placed land and its vast energy resources. The leadership of both of the dominant power factions in the world's greatest democracy agreed that the deliberate murder of innocent people -- more people than were killed in the coterminous genocide in Rwanda -- was an acceptable price to pay for this geopolitical objective. To them, the game -- that is, the augmentation of their already stupendous, world-shadowing wealth and power -- was worth the candle -- that is, the death spasms of a child in the final agonies of gastroenteritis, or cholera, or some other easily preventable affliction.
It is, by any measure, one of the most remarkable -- and horrific -- stories of the last half of the 20th century, outstripped in that period only by China's 'Great Leap Forward' and by the millions killed in the conflicts in Indochina in which the world's greatest democracy played such an instrumental role. Yet it remains an "invisible war," as Joy Gordon calls it in the title of her new book on the United States and the Iraq sanctions. Not only that, the perpetrators of this Rwanda-surpassing genocide walk among us today, safely, serenely, in honor, comfort and privilege. Some of them still hold powerful positions in government. If their savage war was invisible, then so is the innocent blood that smears them from head to foot.
Andrew Cockburn has written an excellent -- and greatly detailed -- review of Gordon's work in the latest London Review of Books, drawing upon his own extensive experience in Iraq as well as the extensive evidence of the book. The review is worth excerpting at length, although there is still much more in the original piece, which you should read as well.
... The multiple disasters inflicted on Iraq since the 2003 Anglo-American invasion have tended to overshadow the lethally effective ‘invisible war’ waged against Iraqi civilians between August 1990 and May 2003 with the full authority of the United Nations and the tireless attention of the US and British governments. ...Even at the time, the sanctions against Iraq drew only sporadic public comment, and even less attention was paid to the bureaucratic manoeuvres in Washington, always with the dutiful assistance of London, which ensured the deaths of half a million children, among other consequences. In her excellent book Joy Gordon charts these in horrifying detail....
The sanctions were originally imposed on Iraq after Saddam -- who had been given the famous "green light" by the envoy of the American president -- invaded Kuwait. The sanctions were said to be a measure short of war, to force him to withdraw; later they became a tool of war when the fighting started. And afterward they became an extension of the war by other means. But in all cases, as Gordon and Cockburn note, they were above all a weapon to destroy the civilian infrastructure and economy of Iraq. Cockburn writes:
... The war, when it came, was directed as much against Iraq’s economy as against its army in Kuwait. Key features of the bombing campaign were designed – as its principal planner, Colonel John Warden of the US air force, explained to me afterwards – to destroy the ‘critical nodes’ that enabled Iraq to function as a modern industrial society. The air force had dreamed of being able to do this sort of thing since before the Second World War, and Warden thought the introduction of precision-guided ‘smart bombs’ now made it a practical proposition. Iraq’s electrical power plants, telecommunications centres, oil refineries, sewage plants and other key infrastructure were destroyed or badly damaged. Warden, I recall, was piqued that bombing in addition to his original scheme had obscured the impact of his surgical assault on the pillars supporting modern Iraqi society....
...The first intimation that the blockade would continue even though Iraq had been evicted from Kuwait came in an offhand remark by Bush at a press briefing on 16 April 1991. There would be no normal relations with Iraq, he said, until ‘Saddam Hussein is out of there’: ‘We will continue the economic sanctions.’ Officially, the US was on record as pledging that sanctions would be lifted once Kuwait had been compensated for the damage wrought during six months of occupation and once it was confirmed that Iraq no longer possessed ‘weapons of mass destruction’ or the capacity to make them. A special UN inspection organisation, Unscom, was created, headed by the Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus, a veteran of arms control negotiations. But in case anyone had missed the point of Bush’s statement, his deputy national security adviser, Robert Gates (now Obama’s secretary of defence), spelled it out a few weeks later: ‘Saddam is discredited and cannot be redeemed. His leadership will never be accepted by the world community. Therefore,’ Gates continued, ‘Iraqis will pay the price while he remains in power. All possible sanctions will be maintained until he is gone.’
This is the blood-and-iron voice of the man retained by the Progressive Peace Laureate in the White House to run his war machine as it churns through human bodies around the world, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Colombia and dozens of other countries: a war machine of official armies, secret militias, death squads, robots and mercenaries. Back to Cockburn:
Despite this explicit confirmation that the official justification for sanctions was irrelevant, Saddam’s supposed refusal to turn over his deadly arsenal would be brandished by the sanctioneers whenever the price being paid by Iraqis attracted attention from the outside world. And although Bush and Gates claimed that Saddam, not his weapons, was the real object of the sanctions, I was assured at the time by officials at CIA headquarters in Langley that an overthrow of the dictator by a population rendered desperate by sanctions was ‘the least likely alternative’. The impoverishment of Iraq – not to mention the exclusion of its oil from the global market to the benefit of oil prices – was not a means to an end: it was the end.
We are of course seeing this same dynamic at work today, as Gates and a new temporary emperor work the same scheme, with the same aim, on yet another recalcitrant nation unfortunately possessed of a strategic location and vast energy resources. Even the same sham justification is being used: the non-existent threat of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. But why not? As long as the rubes keep falling for this shtick, the masters of war will keep using it. Cockburn continues:
Visiting Iraq in that first summer of postwar sanctions I found a population stunned by the disaster that was reducing them to a Third World standard of living. ... Doctors, most of them trained in Britain, displayed their empty dispensaries. Everywhere, people asked when sanctions would be lifted, assuming that it could only be a matter of months at the most (a belief initially shared by Saddam). The notion that they would still be in force a decade later was unimaginable.
The doctors should not have had anything to worry about. Resolution 661 prohibited the sale or supply of any goods to Iraq ... with the explicit exception of ‘supplies intended strictly for medical purposes, and, in humanitarian circumstances, foodstuffs’. However, every single item Iraq sought to import, including food and medicine, had to be approved by the ‘661 Committee’, created for this purpose and staffed by diplomats from the 15 members of the Security Council. The committee met in secret and published scarcely any record of its proceedings. Thanks to the demise of the Soviet Union, the US now dominated the UN, using it to provide a cloak of legitimacy for its unilateral actions.
The 661 Committee’s stated purpose was to review and authorise exceptions to the sanctions, but as Gordon explains, its actual function was to deny the import of even the most innocuous items on the grounds that they might, conceivably, be used in the production of weapons of mass destruction. An ingenious provision allowed any committee member to put any item for which clearance had been requested on hold. So, while other members, even a majority, might wish to speed goods to Iraq, the US and its ever willing British partner could and did block whatever they chose on the flimsiest of excuses. ... Thus in the early 1990s the United States blocked, among other items, salt, water pipes, children’s bikes, materials used to make nappies, equipment to process powdered milk and fabric to make clothes. The list would later be expanded to include switches, sockets, window frames, ceramic tiles and paint.
In 1991 American representatives forcefully argued against permitting Iraq to import powdered milk on the grounds that it did not fulfil a humanitarian need. Later, the diplomats dutifully argued that an order for child vaccines, deemed ‘suspicious’ by weapons experts in Washington, should be denied.
Throughout the period of sanctions, the United States frustrated Iraq’s attempts to import pumps needed in the plants treating water from the Tigris, which had become an open sewer thanks to the destruction of treatment plants. Chlorine, vital for treating a contaminated water supply, was banned on the grounds that it could be used as a chemical weapon. The consequences of all this were visible in paediatric wards. Every year the number of children who died before they reached their first birthday rose, from one in 30 in 1990 to one in eight seven years later. Health specialists agreed that contaminated water was responsible: children were especially susceptible to the gastroenteritis and cholera caused by dirty water.
All very terrible, of course. But what about the UN "Oil for Food" program that was eventually set up to provide a trickle of goods into Iraq in exchange for some of those coveted energy resources? As Cockburn notes, while the "invisible war" of sanctions that killed half a million children is now simply a non-event in the American consciousness, the Oil for Food "scandal" -- Saddam gaming the system to enrich himself while his people suffered -- still looms large for the apologists for the 2003 war of aggression. This, they say, was the real scandal, not all those dead babies. Cockburn:
Under the terms of the programme, much of the money was immediately siphoned off [by the US-led blockaders] to settle what critics called Kuwait’s ‘implausibly high’ claims for compensation for damage from the 1990 invasion and to pay for the Unscom inspections and other UN administrative costs in Iraq. Although the arrangement did permit some improvement in living standards, there was no fundamental change: the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reported in November 1997 that despite the programme, 31 per cent of children under five still suffered from malnutrition, supplies of safe water and medicine were ‘grossly inadequate’ and the health infrastructure suffered from ‘exceptionally serious deterioration’.
It was possible for the Iraqis to wring some pecuniary advantage from the Oil for Food programme by extracting kickbacks from the oil traders whom it favoured with allocations, as well as from companies, such as wheat traders, from which it bought supplies. In 2004, as Iraq disintegrated, the ‘Oil for Food scandal’ was ballyhooed in the US press as ‘the largest rip-off in history’. Congress, which had maintained a near total silence during the years of sanctions, now erupted with denunciations of the fallen dictator’s fraud and deception, which, with alleged UN complicity, had supposedly been the direct cause of so many deaths.
Gordon puts all this in context. ‘Under the Oil for Food programme, the Iraqi government skimmed about 10 per cent from import contracts and for a brief time received illicit payments from oil sales. The two combined amounted to about $2 billion … By contrast, in [the first] 14 months of occupation [after the 2003 invasion], the US-led occupation authority depleted $18 billion in funds’ – money earned from the sale of oil, most of which disappeared with little or no accounting and no discernible return to the Iraqi people. Saddam may have lavished millions on marble palaces (largely jerry-built, as their subsequent US military occupants discovered) but his greed paled in comparison to that of his successors.
As we have noted here often before, the Americans and British leaders who imposed the killing sanctions knew very well, for many years, that Iraq had no WMD at all -- or even any WMD development programs. They knew that by the time of the 2003 invasion, these WMD programmes (which had once been supported with secret cash, credits and "dual-use technology" by none other than George Herbert Walker Bush) had been mothballed for 12 years. I was talking about this, in print, back in 2003 -- even Newsweek was reporting on it, just weeks before the war! -- but, merely being the truth, there was really no place for the story in the American political mind, or the national memory. So Cockburn and Gordon do us good service by detailing the story again. They also add one of the most damning aspects of the story: the frantic efforts by Bill Clinton -- yes, the good old "Big Dawg" of our modern progressives -- to suppress the truth and keep the murderous sanctions, and the drive toward war, going strong:
The economic strangulation of Iraq was justified on the basis of Saddam’s supposed possession of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Year after year, UN inspectors combed Iraq in search of evidence that these WMD existed. But after 1991, the first year of inspections, when the infrastructure of Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme was detected and destroyed, along with missiles and an extensive arsenal of chemical weapons, nothing more was ever found. Given Saddam’s record of denying the existence of his nuclear project (his chemical arsenal was well known; he had used it extensively in the Iran-Iraq war, with US approval) the inspectors had strong grounds for suspicion, at least until August 1995. That was when Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law and the former overseer of his weapons programmes, suddenly defected to Jordan, where he was debriefed by the CIA, MI6 and Unscom. In those interviews he made it perfectly clear that the entire stock of WMD had been destroyed in 1991, a confession that his interlocutors, including the UN inspectors, took great pains to conceal from the outside world.
Nevertheless, by early 1997 Rolf Ekeus had concluded, as he told me many years later, that he must report to the Security Council that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and was therefore in compliance with the Council’s resolutions, barring a few points. He felt bound to recommend that the sanctions should be lifted. Reports of his intentions threw the Clinton administration into a panic. The end of sanctions would lay Clinton open to Republican attacks for letting Saddam off the hook. The problem was solved, Ekeus explained to me, by getting Madeleine Albright, newly installed as secretary of state, to declare in a public address on 26 March 1997 that ‘we do not agree with the nations who argue that, if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted.’ The predictable result was that Saddam saw little further point in co-operating with the inspectors. This provoked an escalating series of confrontations between the Unscom team and Iraqi security officials, ending in the expulsion of the inspectors, claims that Saddam was ‘refusing to disarm’, and, ultimately, war.
There you have it. Clinton did not want the sanctions to end; he did not want to stop throwing the bodies of dead children on the stinking slagheap. As always, when one supposed "benchmark" has been met -- in this case, the elimination of WMD and WMD programs -- the rules are simply changed. We see this too with Iran. Obama puts forth what is purported to be a major "diplomatic" solution to have Iran ship its nuclear fuel to Brazil and Turkey for processing. This was, of course, a hollow gesture, meant to show how intransigent and untrustworthy Iran really is; the nuke-hungry mullahs would naturally reject the deal. But when Iran made an agreement with Brazil to do exactly what Obama requested, this was immediately denounced -- by Obama -- as .... a demonstration of how intransigent and untrustworthy Iran really is. Meet a benchmark, and the masters simply change the rules. That's how it works until they get what they want: regime change in strategic lands laden with natural resources.
Cockburn points out another effect of sanctions that is almost always overlooked:
Denis Halliday, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq who resigned in 1998 in protest at what he called the ‘genocidal’ sanctions regime, described at that time its more insidious effects on Iraqi society. An entire generation of young people had grown up in isolation from the outside world. He compared them, ominously, to the orphans of the Russian war in Afghanistan who later formed the Taliban. ‘What should be of concern is the possibility at least of more fundamentalist Islamic thinking developing,’ Halliday warned. ‘It is not well understood as a possible spin-off of the sanctions regime. We are pushing people to take extreme positions.’ This was the society US and British armies confronted in 2003: impoverished, extremist and angry. As they count the losses they have sustained from roadside bombs and suicide attacks, the West should think carefully before once again deploying the ‘perfect instrument’ of a blockade.
But of course, as we've often noted here, this seems to be exactly what they want: a steady supply of extremists who can be relied upon to keep stoking the profitable fires of Terror War: flames which in turn feed the monstrous engines of the War Machine and its Security offshoot -- both of which long ago devoured the remnants of the American republic, and are now metastasizing with dizzying speed, almost beyond human comprehension.
Dead children. Thousands of dead children. The mountain, the slagheap gets higher and higher. And still the people sleep ....