Five Years and Counting: A Milestone on America's Long March Into Hell

We've all seen a blizzard of articles noting the five-year anniversary of the act of aggression launched against Iraq at the order of George W. Bush. There have been great slag-heaps of mendacity among these commemorations -- none more foul than the stinking torrent of lies that poured forth through the blood-flecked teeth of Bush himself on Wednesday -- but also some excellent analyses of the true situation in Iraq in this fifth year of hell.

The latter include the series of text and video reports from Baghdad by Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. (The latest piece is here. The whole series can be found here.) Another noteworthy witness is Patrick Cockburn. His latest story focuses on the use of deliberate lies "often swallowed whole by the media and a thousand times repeated, which cumulatively mask the terrible reality of Iraq." It is worth quoting at length:

It has been a war of lies from the start. All governments lie in wartime but American and British propaganda in Iraq over the past five years has been more untruthful than in any conflict since the First World War.

The outcome has been an official picture of Iraq akin to fantasy and an inability to learn from mistakes because of a refusal to admit that any occurred. Yet the war began with just such a mistake. Five years ago, on the evening of 19 March 2003, President George Bush appeared on American television to say that military action had started against Iraq.

This was a veiled reference to an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein by dropping four 2,000lb bombs and firing 40 cruise missiles at a place called al-Dura farm in south Baghdad, where the Iraqi leader was supposedly hiding in a bunker. There was no bunker. The only casualties were one civilian killed and 14 wounded, including nine women and a child.

On 7 April, the US Ai r Force dropped four more massive bombs on a house where Saddam was said to have been sighted in Baghdad. "I think we did get Saddam Hussein," said the US Vice President, Dick Cheney. "He was seen being dug out of the rubble and wasn't able to breathe."

Saddam was unharmed, probably because he had never been there, but 18 Iraqi civilians were dead. One US military leader defended the attacks, claiming they showed "US resolve and capabilities".

Mr Cheney was back in Baghdad this week, five years later almost to the day, to announce that there has been "phenomenal" improvements in Iraqi security. Within hours, a woman suicide bomber blew herself up in the Shia holy city of Kerbala, killing at least 40 and wounding 50 people. Often it is difficult to know where the self-deception ends and the deliberate mendacity begins....

I must demur slightly from Cockburn here. I believe there is very little if any self-deception about
Iraq on the part of Bush, Cheney, Tony Blair (or his replacment puppy, Gordon Brown). The mendacity that has characterized their every statement about the conflict throughout its duration has been deliberate, conscious, knowing, and willful. When they go to bed at night, they know they have lied about the war. When they look in the mirror, they know they have lied about the war. Now, it may be that they delude themselves into thinking that their conscious lies about the war are in the service of "a greater good" -- which they identify with the perpetuation of the wealth and privilege of the elites they belong to and represent. But about the falsity of the propaganda they use in order to justify and continue the carnage and war profiteering in Iraq, there are no delusions. They know exactly what they are doing.

Cockburn offers a more recent example to show that the same carnival of deceit that marked the war's beginning is still going on:

On 1 February this year, two suicide bombers, said to be female, blew themselves up in two pet markets in predominantly Shia areas of Baghdad, al Ghazil and al-Jadida, and killed 99 people. Iraqi government officials immediately said the bombers had the chromosonal disorder Down's syndrome, which they could tell this from looking at the severed heads of the bombers. Sadly, horrific bombings in Iraq are so common that they no longer generate much media interest abroad. It was the Down's syndrome angle which made the story front-page news. It showed al-Qa'ida in Iraq was even more inhumanly evil than one had supposed (if that were possible) and it meant, so Iraqi officials said, that al-Qa'ida was running out of volunteers.

The Times splashed on it under the headline, "Down's syndrome bombers kill 91". The story stated firmly that "explosives strapped to two women with Down's syndrome were detonated by remote control in crowded pet markets". Other papers, including The Independent, felt the story had a highly suspicious smell to it. How much could really be told about the mental condition of a woman from a human head shattered by a powerful bomb? Reliable eyewitnesses in suicide bombings are difficult to find because anybody standing close to the bomber is likely to be dead or in hospital.

The US military later supported the Iraqi claim that the bombers had Down's syndrome. On 10 February, they arrested Dr Sahi Aboub, the acting director of the al Rashad mental hospital in east Baghdad, alleging that he had provided mental patients for use by al-Qa'ida. The Iraqi Interior Ministry started rounding up beggars and mentally disturbed people on the grounds that they might be potential bombers.

But on 21 February, an American military spokes-man said there was no evidence the bombers had Down's. Adel Mohsin, a senior official at the Health Ministry in Baghdad, poured scorn on the idea that Dr Aboub could have done business with the Sunni fanatics of al-Qa'ida because he was a Shia and had only been in the job a few weeks.

A second doctor, who did not want to give his name, pointed out that al Rashad hospital is run by the fundamentalist Shia Mehdi Army and asked: "How would it be possible for al-Qa'ida to get in there?"

Few people in Baghdad now care about the exact circumstances of the bird market bombings apart from Dr Aboub, who is still in jail, and the mentally disturbed beggars who were incarcerated.

And of course, it is not only people in Baghdad who don't care about the fate of Aboub and the captive beggars -- whose confusion and torment in the torture chambers of our proteges can only be imagined. It is the American political and media establishments -- and the American people collectively -- who do not care and do not want to know about the individual lives being crushed in their names.

Seamus Milne takes up this theme of neglect -- where, as he puts it, the vast suffering in Iraq "has been somehow normalised as a kind of background noise" -- in his excellent summation in Thursday's Guardian:

The unprovoked aggression launched by the US and Britain against Iraq five years ago today has already gone down across the world as, to borrow the words of President Roosevelt, "a day which will live in infamy". Iraqis were promised freedom, democracy and prosperity. Instead...they have seen the physical and social destruction of their country, mass killing, tens of thousands thrown into jail without trial, rampant torture, an epidemic of sectarian terror attacks, pauperisation, and the complete breakdown of basic services and supplies.

...After five years of occupation, Iraq is ranked as the most violent and dangerous place in the world by an Economist Intelligence Unit index. Two million refugees have fled the country as a result, while a further 2 million have been driven from their homes inside Iraq. This has become the greatest humanitarian crisis on the planet.

In the western world, far from the scene of the unfolding catastrophe, such suffering has been somehow normalised as a kind of background noise. But the impact on the aggressor states, both at home and abroad, has only begun to be felt: not only in the predicted terrorist blowback finally acknowledged by Tony Blair last year, but in a profound domestic political alienation, as well as a loss of standing and credibility across the globe. How can anyone take seriously, for example, US or British leaders lecturing China about Tibet, Russia about Chechnya, or Sudan about Darfur, when they have triggered and presided over such an orgy of killing, collective punishment, prisoner abuse and ethnic cleansing?

Given that the invasion of Iraq was regarded as illegal by the majority of the UN security council, its secretary general, and the overwhelming weight of international legal opinion, it must by the same token be seen as a war crime: what the Nuremberg tribunal deemed the "supreme international crime" of aggression. If it weren't for the fact that there is not the remotest prospect of any mechanism to apply international law to powerful states, Bush and Blair would be in the dock at the Hague. As it is, the only Briton to be found guilty of a war crime in Iraq has been corporal Donald Payne, convicted of inhumane treatment of detainees in Basra -- while the man who sent him there is preposterously touted as a future president of the European Union....

...and has already been hired to teach religion at Yale University, as we noted recently. No doubt we'll also see George Bush on that gilded gospel road next year, talking of his deep, abiding religious faith while filling his trousers with "appearance fee" loot, like Blair and Bill Clinton -- that "unindicted co-conspirator" whose policies did so much to lay the groundwork for the present catastrophe, from his accelerated privatization of the military (Clinton gave billions to Halliburton); to his waging of undeclared, unsanctioned war against Serbia (where he deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure in blatant contravention of international law); to his continuation of genocidal sanctions on the Iraqi people, which weakened Iraqi society to the breaking point and accelerated the rise of religious extremism and sectarianism; to the continual bombing raids he conducted against Iraq, including two major air campaigns, again inflicting many civilian casualties; and, last but by no means least, his quashing of several investigations into the crimes of George H.W. Bush and his minions, which allowed the political rehabilitation of this sinister faction and kept them close enough to the center of power -- and sanitized enough in the public eye -- to be able to cheat their way into office after losing a close vote in 2000.

This is a woeful record indeed -- and the fifth anniversary of the criminal invasion of Iraq is just a small milestone that we are speeding past on a long journey into darkness. As an American, one can only echo the words of Senator Robert Byrd five years ago, when this flawed and conflicted man rose as one of the very few in the entire political establishment to condemn Bush's Hitlerian action: "Today, I weep for my country."