“Why would a person become a journalist if he were afraid to tell the truth?”

On Journalism: A War Against Truth by Paul William Roberts, pages 195-196


    Days were shaped for most by deadlines. Journalists would go out in the morning in search of the news, and then call in their suggestions to desk editors back in London, New York or Tokyo. Frequently, though — far more frequently than was once possible — these desk editors would say, No, that’s not the story this is what I want …


    I asked a few reporters how they felt about having someone sitting in an office back home dictating what was and was not a story here, but they sloughed off the question, either shrugging physically or verbally. That was the way things were. They had all worked hard to get as far as they had — however far that was. They were not about to jeopardize it now. It was not enough to have the dedication and sensibility of a Robert Fisk, either; you had to work for a newspaper that wanted a Robert Fisk. There are not many. Journalists tend to be left-liberal in their views — it’s that kind of job — but they learned to put aside these opinions if they worked for one of the more right-wing papers. Those working for U.S. or British newspapers – with a few exceptions – knew better at this stage than to suggest a story revealing negative aspects of the war. And the vast majority of those “embedded” with the military had become PR outlets for their units.


    Adam Lusher, also with the London Telegraph newspapers, had been embedded with one of the U.S. tank divisions that had driven to Baghdad from Kuwait.  Tall, fresh-faced and lean, he looked far younger than his twenty-seven-odd years. He came up to take his first shower in three months. It was also the first time he had taken off his boots in three months, and the smell of them — of ripe goat’s cheese and old locker rooms – permeated the entire floor. He was told to put the boots out on a balcony. It was soon clear from the way that Philip Sherwell treated him that Lusher was the office jester, the person everyone enjoys making fun of, and who himself enjoyed the attention in a taciturn sort of way. Lusher had spent three months imprisoned in a tank with – as he described them – an acidhead and a misogynist who had married his wife three times. His stories were hilarious, yet nothing of what he told us appeared in his articles, which were solemn paeans in praise of armoured militarism.


    “The misogynist would look at me,” Lusher related, “and say things like ‘Hey, Adam! You know those mornin’s when you wake up and think to yourself, What can I do to piss her off today...?’”


    “To which you replied …?”


    “I told him I wasn’t married …”


    “Lusher’s now the division bitch,” announced Sherwell, laughing.


    I asked Lusher why he did not write a full account of his time, for Harper’s or someone else less committed to victory.


   “I don’t think so,” was all he said in reply, as if the suggestion was somehow out of the question, not possible.


    Why would a person become a journalist if he were afraid to tell the truth? Lusher clearly enjoyed telling his stories verbally. What worried me was the tacit understanding he seemed to have that he could not tell them in print. Self-censorship is far more sinister than regular censorship, since it implies a climate of intimidation so effective it changes actual thought-processes. Soon, it even begins to make sense not to tell the truth. Then it makes sense to silence those who try to tell it. The slippery slope is always there, waiting for the fools who imagine they can use it to slide just a little way down.





On the RealPolitik of War on Iraq from before 1990 to now

 A War Against Truth by Paul William Roberts, pages 32-39


A War Against Truth by Paul William Roberts


While advising the U.S. against interfering, Saddam also said something that the events of this last war make all the more poignant:


“You can come to Iraq with aircraft and missiles, but do not push us to the point where we cease to care. And when we feel that you want to injure our pride and take away the Iraqis’ chance of a high standard of living, then we will cease to care and death will be the choice for us. Then we would not care if you fired one hundred missiles for each missile we fired, because without pride life could have no value.”


The transcript of this meeting is freely available, and its contents have never been disputed by either side. Why, then, is it not better known? Why is it never mentioned or if it is mentioned, marginalized in significance and never quoted directly — in Western accounts of the Gulf War or biographies of Saddam?


It may well be that, as April Glaspie later explained in a New York Times interview, nobody thought “the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait ...” —from which one can infer that it would have been alright if Saddam had only taken part of Kuwait — but this hardly exonerates the administration. The fact remains that the invasion of Kuwait cannot be held against Saddam as the wanton, naked act of aggression that it is popularly conceived to have been. It provided both presidents Bush with the accusation they often levelled at Saddam, but which, given U.S. actions in the Caribbean and Central America, as well as the Israeli attack on the Osirak reactor, is sheer hypocrisy: that he was a “threat to his neighbours.” To the dim sensibility of the average American presidential audience, of course, it contained the affront to Midwest values necessary to stir the mob into a mindless frenzy of bloodlust. People who could not tell you the difference between Iran and Iraq or Khomeini and Saddam were soon telling the corporate networks that Saddam should get his butt kicked. After September 11, 2001, Iraq’s fate was sealed, whether it had connections to al-Qaeda or not.


Many Iraqis have told me that Saddam was a good ruler up to the war with Iran. Like most average citizens, they probably base this judgement on how well-off they were personally. Unpopular as it may be to say now, Iraq prospered under Saddam’s leadership — if only because of the steep rise in oil prices during the 1970s Unlike the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Saddam channelled the oil wealth into the nation’s future, developing new businesses and building fine educational institutions that attracted students from all over the Arab world.


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He gave Iraq a highway system as good as anything in North America. When I first saw Baghdad in the early 198os, it was an opulent and ostentatiously prosperous city, and fastidiously clean. It is no exaggeration to say that Saddam made Iraq into a showcase for the Arab world — and indeed U.S. ambassador April Glaspie congratulated him for doing so. She was not alone: the Saddam Gift Museum that used to be in Baghdad was filled with gifts from grateful U.S. governors, senators and congressional representatives. Whereas the oil boom made the princes of Saudi Arabia familiar figures in the playgrounds of Europe, in Iraq it established a middle class that represented a new and modern kind of Arab. It was during this period that Iraq’s relationships with countries like Russia, Germany, Britain and France were first forged. On the Arab street, especially in countries such as Egypt that did not have a share in the oil boom, Saddam’s reputation as a new Nasser, a leader who could potentially unite the Arab world, grew apace.


General Wafiq al-Samarrai, who was Saddam’s Director of Military Intelligence, told me that Iraq’s leader changed after the Israeli attack on the Osirak reactor: “He became more secretive and more paranoid. The fact that Israel was not punished by the international community for their attack also bothered him deeply. He began to suspect assassins and coup attempts everywhere, and began to spend more and more on building the army, to the exclusion of all else — except his own palaces and family.” Then came the long and terrible war with Iran, which inflicted massive casualties on both sides and swallowed up petro-dollars like nothing Saddam had previously experienced. Both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait had offered to reimburse Saddam for defending them against the Iranians, who had made their interests in territorial acquisition clear, yet no money was ever forthcoming.


The result was that, long before the Gulf War, Iraq was bankrupt; $40 billion is the sum Saddam told Ambassador Glaspie that he was owed by Kuwait, and she acknowledged her awareness of Iraq’s financial predicament. At the close of this final meeting, Saddam asked Glaspie to convey a message to President Bush, saying it had come to his attention that certain elements both to the U.S. State Department and to the CIA were engaged in plots to persuade the more conservative Gulf states to cut off Iraq’s economic aid. 


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Saddam’s message expediently stated that he knew President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker (who had once been U.S. ambassador Kuwait) could not possibly be involved with anything so wicked. Referring the $40 billion owed by the Kuwaitis, the president of Iraq said, “Without Iraq they would not have had these sums and the future of the region would have been entirely different.”


Glaspie offered no rebuttal of this, and indeed promised to convey th message to Bush.


By the time of his final meeting with U.S. ambassador Glaspie, Saddam had clearly sensed that American perfidy was afoot. He had also seen the shabby treatment meted out to his friend and fellow CIA stooge, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, when the shah was in exile in 1979-80 and wracked with cancer. Furthermore, Saddam had recently been vilified by Voice of America broadcasts to the Middle East comparing him with fallen Eastern-Bloc dictators like Romania’s Ceausescu. Someone had even sent him a videotape of Ceausescu’s interrogation and execution at the hands of rebels, as a hint of what lay ahead. Although various American politicians had flown to Baghdad from time to time to assure him of the esteem in which he was held by Washington, Saddam could read the writing on the wall. Iran had fallen to fundamentalist theocrats; Saudi Arabia looked as if it was heading in the same direction; therefore Iraq’s oil was becoming increasingly vital in the eyes of those intending to call out the U.S. war machine — which had no immediate plans for conversion to solar power.


The Gulf War was what Alexander Haig, Reagan’s first secretary of state, called a “demonstration war.” It demonstrated that America’s bite could be worse than its bark, and it allowed the Pentagon to demonstrate the deadly new hi-tech arsenal at its disposal. Any military chiefs around the world who had once entertained notions of locking horns with the U.S. were given pause. “Watch out,” was the message, “you could be next.” But the opportunity to remove Saddam from power that the war clearly presented was not taken, supposedly because of pressure brought to bear by the Saudi princes, who feared for their security if Iraq were to be destabilized. The security of Saudi Arabia was clearly a higher priority than the well-being of Iraqis, so Saddam was permitted to retreat back to Baghdad with much of his elite Republican Guard forces intact. Only the regular Iraqi army of poor conscripts was engaged by U.S. forces,





A War Against Truth by Paul William Roberts


who buried hundreds of them alive in their trenches with armoured bulldozers and slaughtered thousands more in —a “turkey shoot” on the road to Basra; the final death toll was at least 50,000 —men.  In a now familiar pattern, the figures were denied by the Pentagon —until the issue was old news. When the body count was finally admitted, few noticed it, and fewer cared.


Despite his acquiescence to Saudi demands, President Bush still urged Iraq’s southern Shiites to rise up against Saddam, who massacred tens of thousands of them in an attempt to keep his splintered country together. The Shiites had been promised U.S. support for their rebellion, but it never arrived. This betrayal was still fresh in their minds during the 2003 invasion, where some of the fiercest fighting took place around the southern cities of Basra, Najaf and Karbala, whose populations are predominantly Shiite.


The Kurds in the north, too, were encouraged to rise up, and found themselves similarly abandoned to Saddam’s bloody reprisals — as they had previously been in 1975, prompting Henry Kissinger’s notorious comment —that “covert operations is not missionary work.”


The aftermath of the Gulf War became confused by these rebellions, making it easy to blame the many thousands of Iraqi dead on Saddam. I travelled through Iraq during the war, however, and will never forget the dead and dying lined up on roadsides after U.S. raids, waiting for ambulances —that would never come. In Baghdad, the dead were mostly women, children and the elderly, since all able-bodied men were at the Kuwait front, as were most of the doctors and paramedics. But George Bush the First had promised a “clean war with no civilian casualties,” and by the time the truth came out another administration was in office and no one cared that yet another a-president had told yet another lie.


One promise Bush did deliver on was his chilling vow to “return Iraq to the pre-industrial era.” Besides the missiles, three waves of B-52 warplanes carpet-bombed Baghdad every night, indiscriminately hitting schools, infant formula factories, art galleries and private homes. Air strikes deliberately targeted Baghdad’s urban infrastructures, so that — in the dead of winter —power facilities, water-treatment plants, state-subsidized bakeries and grain silos were destroyed, leaving millions without food, heating or potable water. Sickness quickly spread; many thousands died long after the bombs had stopped falling. On the whole, people in the West


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preferred to believe Bush I’s lies about the war; and by the time the truth emerged their interests were elsewhere. The former Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, set up a war crimes tribunal — in which I participated — in an attempt to indict Bush and others. But nothing came of it, and the University of Toronto even awarded the ex-president an honorary doctorate, deaf to the student voices denouncing him as a mass-murderer. There was never a clearer indication of the moral abyss separating our rulers from the rest of us.


Air attacks on Iraq continued throughout the Clinton administration, during which time the American-inspired United Nations embargo came into effect. When I visited Iraq in 1996, I was profoundly shocked by the condition in which I found Iraqis living. Galloping inflation had made their currency worthless. In the 1980s there had been three dollars to a dinar; now there were three thousand dinars to a dollar. State salaries had remained unchanged — and the state was by far the largest employer — so that someone who had earned the equivalent of a thousand dollars a month was now making the equivalent of thirty cents a month. Manufacturing industries had closed down because imported raw materials were either impossibly expensive or else prohibited by the embargo. All Iraq had was oil, so being prevented from selling it meant that no foreign currency could be earned, which meant that nothing could be imported, and Iraq imported almost everything it needed.


The majority of Iraqis were now subsisting on whatever could be grown or grazed in the flood plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Malnutrition was beginning to take its toll. Not as visually dramatic as starvation, malnutrition means the body cannot obtain the range of nutrients, trace elements and minerals it needs for cellular growth. The average age of death had fallen from 76 to 58, and between half a million and one-and-a-half million people, the majority of them children under five, died in what a U.N. report described as “a humanitarian disaster comparable to the worst catastrophes of the past decades.” In the south, the incidence of cancers had dramatically risen on account of the depleted uranium used by American armour-piercing bullets. The pharmacies contained no medicines. People looked drained, worn, and many seemed on the brink of nervous breakdown. The once-grand city of Baghdad reflected its people; it was patched together around the rubble, reeking of sewage. Tap water ran brown; there were no


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light bulbs, no toilet paper. Indeed, there was no paper of any kind — the embargo prevented its importation — and even the hotels were using the reverse side of used government stationery for customers’ bills. Where there had been no beggars, there were now many; and once-respectable women —sisters, mothers, wives — were sent to prostitute themselves for a dollar or two. It was a question of sheer survival.


Saddam had ceased to trust any but his immediate family and a few longtime colleagues. What wealth the country produced he kept to himself, embarking on a spree of palace-building in a grotesque and misguided attempt to stir up national pride. The education system he had once cared so much about was cut off from most of its state funding. Junior schools became little more than indoctrination courses in the glories of Saddam. In his Revolutionary Command Council the average level of education was the equivalent of grade four — as if sending out the message that learning no longer mattered. The secret police proliferated, with one unit investigating another in an attempt to root out conspiracies that left father distrusting son, brother distrusting brother. If you were not connected with Saddam’s tribe, based on his home town of Tikrit, you had little future anyway. As a result, a vast “Tikrit Mafia” had grown up, with cousins and uncles of Saddam carving out abusive little fiefdoms for themselves.


Saddam was renowned for his brutality, but even he could not match the fear inspired by his eldest son Uday, whose reputation as a sadistic womanizer caused many to hide their daughters permanently from his gaze. Sent by the New York Times in 1996 to write about Uday, I was swiftly warned away from the subject. “They’ll take you out to the desert and drive a car over you, then say you were in an accident,” I was told. Besides, the appalling effects of the embargo made the story of Uday pale. In just five years, Iraq had changed beyond recognition. Its people had been reduced to sickly, fearful wretches; its cities were falling apart with neglect and decay; its leader had seemingly lost all touch with reality.


America behaved as if Saddam was responsible for these conditions. The U.N. weapons inspectors continued to turn up nothing — probably because there was nothing to turn up any more — yet the embargo was kept in place. Washington increased its demands, which grew abusive. But, though grumbling, Saddam allowed the inspectors into his palaces, where they


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Found nothing. It was widely believed in Iraq that American demands would just increase until they were unacceptable — then the country would be attacked again. As the Iraqi information minister, Mohammed Sayeed Sahaf, told me, “They will want to inspect Saddam’s asshole every morning, and still it will not be enough.” Indeed, one wondered if the doctor inspecting Saddam’s mouth with a flashlight after his capture was really still looking for those elusive weapons of mass destruction.


Faced with all this evidence, I think we are forced to conclude that there has been a deliberate attempt by the U.S. to undermine Iraq’s stability stretching back at least fifteen years, and possibly further, to the beginning of the war with Iran, or even to the encouraging of Kurdish independence before 1975.


Some of the principal reports seen by President George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, soon after the inauguration, especially one from the Council on Foreign Relations, directly warned that Iraq’s oil should be grabbed now, before it ran out, or China seized it. That the second President Bush is also trying to “reshape the Middle East in Israel’s favour” seems likely, as well. The weapons inspections in Iraq had turned up nothing, and it was just a matter of time before the U.N. embargo would have had to be lifted. With the petro-dollars flowing in again, there is little doubt that Saddam would have continued to rebuild his army and his nuclear and biochemical weapons programs. It would, presumably, not have been long before Iraq and Israel clashed over something. And to play down its Israel-biased policy in the region, while still controlling it, America really needed a base of its own in the Middle East — just as it had in Germany, Italy, Japan and elsewhere. Any idea of using Saudi Arabia for these purposes must have been scuttled with the rise of fundamentalist Islam, which would never tolerate Infidel presence in the state where the holy sites of Mecca and Medina were located. An opportunity such as Iraq now presented might not come along again.


Or rather, an opportunity such as Saddam presented, because it was largely by virtue of Saddam’s character that Washington could pull off this neo-imperialist grab. To say that America’s post-World War II foreign policy made a habit of cultivating — or even creating — leaders like Saddam is no exaggeration. Possibly with the model of Hitler in mind, Washington’s


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covert ops people sought out, as leaders in places for which they had an interest, men who would be particularly easy to take down when or if the need arose. The Shah, Saddam, Pinochet, Suharto, Marcos, Noriega, to name but a few, were all propped up initially or placed in power with CIA help; and they were also all corrupt and brutal dictators who oppressed their own people. Their advantage to Washington lay in the ease with which they could be deposed. The mere revelation to a gullible media of their crimes would have the West howling for their removal — which gave Washington the kind of security it needed, however things turned out. Nothing about politics in America is missionary work.


When a gang of crooks like the current administration in Washington takes power, one can expect to see some reshaping of policy to favour the individuals involved. I do not think anyone expected the degree of rapaciousness in imposing it that we have seen, however, nor the infantile understanding of the world that it entails.


Behind the propaganda and the pomp, behind the declarations of a noble purpose, behind the real grief of widows, orphans and mothers lies a squalid truth that history will not treat kindly.



People worry a lot about how the Arab Street is going to react. Well, I see that the Arab Street has gotten very, very quiet since we started blowing things up.




Iraq is a key part of a plan for world domination whose origins go back a decade to when Bush I was president. Part of it is laid out in the National Security Strategy, a document every administration is obliged to produce that outlines the approach it will take to defending the country. The Bush II administration’s plan was released on September 20, 2002, and is significantly different from previous plans, a fact which it acknowledges and attributes to the attacks of September 11, 2001.


The terrorism problem is addressed in the president’s report by an aggressive military and foreign policy that embraces pre-emptive attacks against perceived enemies.  When referring  to what it terms “American internationalism,” it speaks of the need to ignore international opinion if that is what best serves U.S. interests, and asserts bluntly that “the best defense is a good offense.” The doctrine of deterrence is dismissed as a Cold War relic, and in its place the report talks of “convincing or compelling states to accept their sovereign responsibilities.”


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