16 December, 2009 — MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media
We are controlled by an illusion of democracy based on rigged political parties and rigged elections. It might be cathartic to periodically reject Tweedledum in favour of Tweedledee, but they serve the same interests and are both fierce opponents of all attempts to break their shared monopoly.
It is a system of control that could not possibly be maintained without the support of a powerful corporate media monopoly that pretends ‘balanced’ reporting covers a spectrum stretching from Tweedledum on something called ‘the centre-left’ to Tweedledee on ‘the centre-right’.
The use of military and economic force to control and exploit the world is non-negotiable for these interests. We are free to vote for the Labour party to attack ‘threatening’, but in fact defenceless, Third World countries, or we can vote for the Conservative party to do the same. We can buy the Guardian that respectfully hypes the ‘threat’ as defined by ‘official sources’, or we can buy The Times that does the same.
When public scepticism erupts in response to resultant extremes of criminality and violence that even the media are powerless to deny, the illusion must be bolstered. Then Tweedledum-Tweedledee will choose from their own to rig an “inquiry”, while their media allies present the process as something other than a farce.
The Chilcot Committee
Thus the BBC writes that the tone set by the five-member committee of the Chilcot Iraq war inquiry “has been courteous, not adversarial”. If that sounds like an insult to an outraged public, the BBC is quick to hide the truth:
“Sir John Chilcot and his colleagues know their reputations are on the line. They’ve started as they mean to go on – searching for the full story.” (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/8383168.stm)
A Guardian editorial commented last month:
“Tony Blair has yet to testify before Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the Iraq war, but he must already be squirming after the first week’s evidence. Contrary to expectations, the mandarins have not pulled their oh-so-elegant punches.” (Leading Article: ‘Iraq inquiry: Dancing to American drums,’ The Guardian, November 28, 2009)
Mary Dejevsky of the Independent also noted that the questioning had been “gentle”, but “one after another, the top civil servants of the time have plunged the knife in to the former prime minister, sometimes brutally, sometimes with a surgeon’s finesse”.
In reality, almost nothing that was not already known has been revealed. And much that is known has been consigned to the memory hole. There +has+ been one inadvertent scoop, the leaking of a letter submitted by the then attorney-general, Lord Goldsmith, to Blair in 2002. This declared that the invasion had “no legal basis for military action… as things stand you obviously cannot do it”. Blair, the “pretty straight guy”, ignored the letter and banned Goldsmith from cabinet.
Even now, Dejevsky can write that Blair “appears firmly to have believed… that it would be far more damaging to the world’s peace and security if the US acted alone than if Britain stood alongside.” (Ibid)
Blair lied to his party, lied to parliament and lied to his country. Lest we forget, this extended to terrorising his own people. On November 7, 2002, the day before the UN vote on Resolution 1441, which “set the clock ticking” on war, Downing Street began issuing almost daily warnings of imminent terrorist threats against UK ferries, the underground, and major public events. In 2003, Blair ordered tanks to ring Heathrow airport – an astonishing action said to be in response to increased terrorist “chatter” warning of a “missile threat”.
The Guardian/Observer website records dozens of mentions of articles containing the words “Heathrow” and “threat” between November 2002 and February 2003. These abruptly ceased after February 14 – the day Hans Blix, head of the UNMOVIC arms inspection team in Iraq, presented a key report to the UN, and the day before the biggest anti-war protest march in British history. Thereafter, the “threat” just disappeared – no suspects were caught, no missiles were found, and no further questions were asked. In a rare moment of dissent, the Guardian editors had previously commented on the endless scare stories:
“It cannot be ruled out that Mr Blair may have political reasons for talking up the sense of unease, in order to help make the case for a war against Iraq that is only backed by one voter in three.” (Leading article, ‘Gloom in Guildhall,’ The Guardian, November 12, 2002)
John Pilger cited a former intelligence officer who described the government’s terror warnings as “a softening up process” ahead of the Iraq war and “a lying game on a huge scale”. (Pilger, ‘Lies, damned lies and government terror warnings,’ Daily Mirror, December 3, 2002)
We are to believe that Blair did all of this and committed one of history’s supreme war crimes at a cost of more than one million lives out of concern for the world‘s peace and security. As Blair’s American co-conspirators might say: Go figure!
The five Chilcot committee members were hand-picked by Gordon Brown, a notorious practitioner of realpolitik, himself deeply complicit in the Iraq war crime. In 2007, Richard Horton, editor of the leading medical journal, The Lancet, commented:
“This Labour government, which includes Gordon Brown as much as it does Tony Blair, is party to a war crime of monstrous proportions. Yet our political consensus prevents any judicial or civil society response. Britain is paralysed by its own indifference.” (Horton, ‘A monstrous war crime,’ The Guardian, March 28, 2007; www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2044157,00.html)
Richard Ingrams writes in the Independent:
“The lack of probing questions ought not to surprise us given the composition of the panel, all of them with close links to the political establishment.”
In June, Philippe Sands, Professor of Law at UCL, asked of Sir John Chilcot, a former permanent secretary:
“What was it about his role in the Butler inquiry that caused the prime minister to conclude he was suitable? Some who have worked closely with him, including on the Butler inquiry, fear he is not the right person. Someone who has seen him first hand described his approach as one of ‘obvious deference to governmental authority’. This is a view I have heard repeated several times. More troubling is evidence I have seen for myself.” (www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jun/21/iraq-inquiry-philippe-sands)
Sands noted that former attorney-general Lord Goldsmith had given evidence at the Butler inquiry and that some members of the inquiry had pressed him hard:
“By contrast, Sir John’s spoonfed questions give every impression of being designed to elicit a response from the attorney general that would demonstrate the reasonableness of his actions and those of the government.”
The Chilcot committee also includes the historian Sir Martin Gilbert. In 2004, Sir Martin wrote of “the war on terror”:
“Although it can easily be argued that George W Bush and Tony Blair face a far lesser challenge than Roosevelt and Churchill did – that the war on terror is not a third world war – they may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill.”
Historian Sir Lawrence Freedman, also on the inquiry, wrote of the December 1998, Desert Fox bombing of Iraq:
“The best arguments for Desert Fox lay as much in what might have been the consequences of inaction as the achievements of action. If the report by Richard Butler, the head of the United Nations weapons inspectors (Unscom), on Iraqi non-compliance had been followed by no more than an awkward shrugging of the shoulders, then Saddam would have been relieved and emboldened.” (Freedman, ‘Ability to exercise sustained military force is essential,’ The Times, April 25, 2000)
This is the standard mainstream version of events. The truth is a million miles distant as chief UN weapons inspector at the time, Scott Ritter, explains in the Guardian – a newspaper that essentially ignored him when it mattered in 2002-2003:
“The U.S. and Britain had both abandoned aggressive UN weapons inspections in the spring of 1998. UN weapons inspectors were able and willing to conduct intrusive no-notice inspections of any site inside Iraq, including those associated with the Iraqi president, if it furthered their mandate of disarmament. But the U.S. viewed such inspections as useful only in so far as they either manufactured a crisis that produced justification for military intervention (as was the case with inspections in March and December 1998), or sustained the notion of continued Iraqi non-compliance so as to justify the continuation of economic sanctions.
“An inspection process that diluted arguments of Iraq’s continued retention of WMD by failing to uncover any hard evidence that would sustain such allegations, or worse, sustain Iraq’s contention that it had no such weaponry, was not in the interest of U.S. policy objectives that sought regime change, and as such required the continuation of stringent economic sanctions linked to Iraq’s disarmament obligation…
“In the end, the British were left with the role of fabricating legitimacy for an American policy of terminating weapons inspections in Iraq, supplying dated intelligence of questionable veracity about a secret weapons cache being stored in the basement of a Ba’ath party headquarters in Baghdad, which was used to trigger an inspection the U.S. hoped the Iraqis would balk at. When the Iraqis (as hoped) balked, the U.S. ordered the inspectors out of Iraq, leading to the initiation of Operation Desert Fox, a 72-hour bombing campaign designed to ensure that Iraq would not allow the return of UN inspectors, effectively keeping UN sanctions ‘frozen’ in place.” (www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/nov/27/truth-uk-guilt-iraq-chilcot)
In other words, the US-UK coalition manufactured a crisis to +prevent+ inspectors from giving Iraq a clean bill of health. Similarly, in 2002, as the leaked Downing Street memo exposed, the coalition planned to provoke Saddam Hussein into obstructing weapons inspections and so provide a justification for war (the second part of the plan was to provoke an Iraqi military response justifying war through increased bombing). This is simply not part of the mainstream version of events. Indeed it is not part of the media worldview, which depicts the British state as reasonable and peaceable, rather than as cynical and violent.
Our media database search (December 2009) for articles mentioning ‘Ritter’, ‘party’ and ‘headquarters’ found two articles mentioning this story. One rare mention, in the Mail on Sunday in December 1998, noted that Ritter’s advisers “deliberately provoked a showdown with the Iraqis”. Ritter gave more detail:
“They set the date to commence bombing December 16 and then asked the UN inspection team to demand access to Saddam’s Ba’ath Party headquarters, even though there was no evidence that the complex was a weapons storage site.
“But Saddam didn’t bite. He allowed four inspectors inside. So the US demanded that 12 more inspectors be allowed in and this time it worked. The demand was denied.” (Sharon Churcher, ‘How America kept Saddam in Power,’ Mail on Sunday, December 20, 1998)
Former New Statesman editor John Kampfner has described how, in 1999, Lawrence Freedman was invited to help shape “a philosophy that Blair could call his own” on foreign affairs, complete with benchmarks as to when countries should attack other countries out of humanitarian concern. This was the infamous “Blair doctrine” announced in a speech in Chicago. (www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/may/05/biography.politicalbooks)
In his speech, Blair said:
“Many of our problems have been caused by two dangerous and ruthless men – Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic.”
In 2001, Sir Lawrence wrote:
“Was 11 September 2001 the start of the Third World War? To save the suspense, the answer is ‘yes’…” (Freedman,
‘This is the third world war,’ The Independent, October 20, 2001)
Richard Ingrams notes that on Channel 4, Sir Lawrence referred to the “rather noble criteria” underlying the 2003 invasion of Iraq. (www.independent.co.uk/opinion/columnists/richard-ingrams/richard-ingramsrsquos-week-the-insistent-doubts-about-chilcots-tame-professor-1834666.html)
During the current inquiry, Sir Lawrence has revealed that he had “instigated” a pre-war seminar for Blair to discuss Iraq because: “I was aware of misgivings among some specialists in Iraq about the direction of policy.” He added that this was “my only direct engagement in Iraq policy making”. Ingrams comments:
“We were not told how a professor of history came to be in a position to organise such a seminar for the Prime Minister, nor, for that matter, whether there might have been some indirect engagements subsequently on the part of Freedman.” (Ibid)
George Galloway MP has discussed the token woman on the panel, Baroness Usha Prashar:
“Why can we not have real politicians on the inquiry? Why cannot the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) — forensic, learned, legal — be on the committee? Why cannot the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), with all his experience, skills and training, be on the inquiry? Why cannot the former Foreign Secretary Lord Hurd, with his vast knowledge of international affairs, be on the inquiry? Why should Parliament be represented by a woman I have never heard of?
“I have sat in this place for 23 years, and I doubt whether anybody here, other than those with the privilege of knowing the lady personally, could tell us anything that she has ever done. How can she represent Parliament in this great debate—this great inquiry? There are no military men, no men or women of legal eminence and no politicians except a non-political peeress of whom none of us has heard. This inquiry team has no credibility out there among the public.”
Finally, also sitting on the committee is Sir Roderic Lyne who was British Ambassador to the Russian Federation from 2000 to 2004. He is currently a Senior Adviser to JPMorgan Chase Bank, and a non-executive director of Peter Hambro Mining. He is a member of the Board of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce. A radical dissident Sir Roderic is not.
In short, Brown’s selection of the Chilcot inquiry committee was one more establishment insult to the British people and to our victims attempting to survive in the wreckage of Iraq. It was one more gesture of contempt for compassion, truth and democracy.
This media alert will shortly be archived here:
A new Media Lens book, ‘NEWSPEAK in the 21st Century,’ by David Edwards and David Cromwell has just been published by Pluto Press. John Pilger writes of the book:
“Not since Orwell and Chomsky has perceived reality been so skilfully revealed in the cause of truth.”
Our earlier book, ‘Guardians of Power: The Myth Of The Liberal Media’ (Pluto Books, London), was published in 2006: www.medialens.org/bookshop/guardians_of_power.php
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