Original version published in The Moscow Times, March 18, 2005.
President George W. Bush often complains about the "media filter" that distorts the true picture of his Administration's accomplishments in Iraq. And he's right. For regardless of where you stand on Mr. Bush's policies in the region, it's undeniable that the political and commercial biases of the American press have consistently misrepresented the reality of the situation.
Here's an excellent example. Earlier this month, the American media completely ignored an important announcement from an official of the Iraqi government concerning the oft-maligned U.S. operation to clear insurgents from the city of Fallujah last November. Although the press conference of Health Ministry investigator Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli was attended by representatives from the Washington Post, Knight-Ridder and more than 20 other international news outlets, nary a word of his team's thorough investigation into the truth about the battle made it through the filter's dense mesh. Once again, the American public was denied the full story of one of President Bush's remarkable triumphs.
Dr. ash-Shaykhli's findings provided confirmation of earlier reports by many other Iraqis – reports that were also ignored by the arrogant filterers, who seem more interested in hearing from terrorists or anti-occupation extremists than ordinary Iraqis and those like Dr. ash-Shaykhli, who serve in the American-backed interim government vetted and approved by Mr. Bush. But while the media elite turn up their nose at such riff-raff, the testimony of these common folk and diligent public servants give ample evidence of Mr. Bush's innovative method of liberating innocent Iraqis from tyranny:
He burns them to death with chemical weapons.
Dr. ash-Shaykhli was sent by the pro-American Baghdad government to assess health conditions in Fallujah, a city of 300,000 people that was razed to the ground by an American assault on a few hundred insurgents, most of whom slipped away long before the attack. The ruin of the city was total: every single house was either destroyed (75-80 percent of the total) or heavily damaged. The entire infrastructure – water, electricity, food, transport, medicine– was obliterated. Indeed, the city's hospitals were among the first targets, in order to prevent medical workers from spreading "propaganda" about civilian casualties, U.S. officials said at the time.
Eyewitness accounts from the few survivors of the onslaught – which killed an estimated 1,200 non-combatants – have consistently reported the use of "burning chemicals" by American forces: horrible concoctions that roasted people alive with an unquenchable jellied fire, InterPress reports. They tell too of whole quadrants of the city in which nothing was left alive, not even the dogs and the goats: quadrants that were sealed off by the victorious Americans for mysterious scouring operations after the battle. Others told of widespread use of cluster bombs in civilian areas: a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions, but a standard practice throughout the war.
The few fragments of this information that made it through the ever-vigilant filter were instantly dismissed as anti-American propaganda, although they often came from civilians who had opposed the heavy-handed insurgent presence in the town. Rejected too were the innumerable horror stories of those who had seen their whole families – women, children, the old and sick – slaughtered in the "liberal rules of engagement" established by Bush's top brass. Most of the city was declared "weapons free": military jargon meaning that soldiers could shoot "whatever they see – it's all considered hostile," the New York Times reported, in a story buried deep inside the paper.
Yet the ash-Shaykhli team – again, appointed by the Bush-backed government – confirmed the use of "mustard gas, nerve gas and other burning chemicals" by U.S. forces during the battle. Dr. ash-Shaykhli said that survivors – still living in refugee camps, along with some 200,000 former Fallujah residents who fled before the assault – are now showing the medical effects of attack by chemical agents and the use of depleted uranium shells.(American officials have admitted raining more than 250,000 pounds of toxin-tipped DU ammunition on Iraqis since the war began.)
The Pentagon has acknowledged using white phosphorous in Fallujah, but only for "illumination purposes." It denied using napalm in the attack – but in the course of that denial admitted that its earlier denials of using napalm elsewhere in Iraq were in fact false. However, individual Marines filing "After Action Reports" on the Internet for military enthusiasts back home have detailed the routine use of white phosphorous shells, propane bombs and "jellied gasoline" (also known as napalm) during direct tactical assaults in Fallujah.
Dr. ash-Shaykhli's findings – coming from a pro-American government, buttressed by reams of eyewitness testimony from ordinary Iraqi civilians – appear to be substantial and credible, worthy of further investigation by the American press. Certainly, the findings are more credible than the pre-war lies and fantasies about Saddam's phantom WMD, which the "media filter" lapped up from the Bush Regime and amplified across the nation, rousing support for an unnecessary, illegal and immoral war. Yet these serious new atrocity charges have not even been mentioned, much less examined.
Behind the filter – with its basic story template of "always moral U.S. policies occasionally marred by a few bad apples" – a relentless degeneration of American society is taking place. Brutality and atrocity are becoming normalized, systemized, rewarded. The noble American ideal of transcendence – overcoming the beast within, seeking to embrace an ever-broader, ever-deeper, ever-richer vision of universal communion and individual worth – is dying at the hands of the resurgent barbarity championed and cultivated by the Regime. Old-fashioned citizens are being replaced by "Bush-Americans": wilfully ignorant, bellicose zealots, cringingly servile toward the powerful, violently hostile to all "outsiders." Despite Bush's artful complaints, the media filter has served his degenerate purposes very well.