By John Pilger
06 November, 2006
17 October, President Bush signed a bill that legalised torture and
kidnapping and in effect repealed the Bill of Rights and habeas corpus.
The CIA can now legally abduct people and "render" them to
secret prisons in countries where they are likely to be tortured. Evidence
extracted under torture is now permissible in "military commissions";
people can be sentenced to death based on testimony beaten out of witnesses.
You are now guilty until confirmed guilty. And you are a "terrorist"
if you commit what George Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, called "thoughtcrimes".
Bush has revived the prerogatives of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs:
the power of unrestricted lawlessness. "America can be proud,"
said Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the bill's promoters, who stood
with other congressmen, clapping as Bush signed away the American constitution
and the essence of American democracy.
The historic significance
of this was barely acknowledged in Britain, the source of these abandoned
ancient rights, no doubt because the same barbarians' law is taking
hold here. The great crime of Iraq is a moral tsunami that has left
new Labour's vassals floundering and shouting their hopeless inversions
of the truth as they await rescue by Washington. "At a deeper ideological
level," wrote the American historian Alfred McCoy, "[what
is happening] is a contest of power versus justice . . . Viewed historically,
it is a fight over fundamental principles reaching back nearly 400 years."
Not long ago, I interviewed Dianna Ortiz, an American nun tortured in
1989 by a Guatemalan death squad whose leader she identified as a fellow
American. This was the time of Ronald Reagan, who was as murderous in
central America as Bush is in the Middle East. "You can't claim
to be a democracy if you practise or condone torture," she said.
"It is the ultimate test."
The United States promised
a democracy when the Civil Rights Act became law in 1964 and the Voting
Rights Act the following year finally ended slavery. For the next decade,
the civil-rights movement joined the great popular movement to end the
slaughter in Vietnam, and Congress legislated to restrain the CIA's
secretive parallel power. It was a fleeting intermission. Under Reagan,
the mythology of American democracy and "pride" was restored,
perversely, when his corrupt executive ignited a lawless war in impoverished
central America, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, which the
United Nations called genocide. The United States became the only country
ever to have been condemned by the International Court of Justice for
terrorism (against Nicaragua). "Let's drop the bullshit,"
a former senior CIA officer told me recently. "What matters is
our national security interests, OK?"
is a euphemism for the forbidden word, imperialism, whose despotic power
has accelerated under George W Bush. Secret presidential "signing
decrees" that can overturn the rare opposition of an otherwise
supine Congress are now normal practice, along with a Gulag of secret
prisons, described approvingly by Bush as "the CIA programme".
The United States today is an extension of the totalitarianism it has
long sought to impose abroad. That unpalatable truth is unspoken, of
course; in spite of his current "difficulties" over Iraq,
corporate propaganda remains on Bush's side. The search for an "exit
strategy" may make "embarrassing" headlines, but the
deliberate, systematic looting of billions of dollars of Iraq's resources
has been quietly achieved, with an estimated $20bn "missing".
The same silence applies to the class and race war at home, as the Bush
gang kicks away the ladder that once led to the American middle class.
Last January, 25,000 people applied for 325 jobs at a Wal-Mart in Chicago.
Constitutional rights are
formidable American myths. The American press is often put forward as
constitutionally having the freest speech on earth; and it does, theoretically.
Yet during every period of internal repression, the press and broadcast
journalism have played a compliant, "Pravda" role, backing
imperial wars, indulging the lies of the "red baiter" Joe
McCarthy, promoting phoney debates about phoney threats (Cuba, Nicaragua,
the nuclear arms race) and the supercult of "anti-communism".
Bush's lies about Iraq and Afghanistan were merely amplified and promoted.
Seymour Hersh and a handful of others stand out as honourable exceptions.
In 1991, at the end of the
one-sided slaughter known as the Gulf war, the celebrated American TV
anchorman Dan Rather told his national audience, "There's one thing
we can all agree on. It's the heroism of the 148 Americans who gave
their lives so that freedom could live." In fact, a quarter of
them had been killed by other Americans. Most of the British casualties
were caused by the same "friendly fire". Moreover, official
citations describing how Americans had died heroically in hand-to-hand
combat were fake. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died during
and in the aftermath of that "war" remain unmentionable -
like hundreds of thousands who died as a result of the decade-long embargo;
like the 655,000 Iraqi "excess deaths" since the invasion
The war on democracy has
been successfully exported. In Britain, and in other western countries,
such as Australia, journalism and scholarship have been systematically
appropriated as the new order's management class, and democratic ideas
have been emptied and refilled beyond all recognition. Unlike the 1930s,
there is a silence of writers, with Harold Pinter almost the lone voice
raised in Britain. The promoters of an extreme form of capitalism known
as neo liberalism, the supercult responsible for the greatest inequalities
in history, are described as "reformers" and "revolutionaries".
The noble words "freedom" and "liberty" now refer
to the divine right of this extremism to "prevail", the jargon
for dominate and control. This vocabulary, which contaminates the news
and the pronouncements of the state and its bureaucracy, is from the
same lexicon as Arbeit macht frei - "Work makes you free"
- the words over the gates at Auschwitz.
For the British under Blair,
the influence of this fake democracy has been catastrophic. Even if
the convergence of the Labour Party and the Tories was historically
inevitable, it was Tony Blair, the most extreme British political figure
in living memory, who returned Britain to a full-time violent, imperial
role, converting a fictional notion, "the clash of civilisations",
into a possibility. Blair has destroyed the power of parliament and
politicised those sections of the civil service and the security and
intelligence services that saw themselves as impartial. He is Britain's
president, lacking only the accompanying strains of "Hail to the
Chief". Last installed by little more than a fifth of the eligible
population, he is the most undemocratically elected leader in British
history. Poll after poll tells us he is also the most reviled.
Under President Blair, parliament
has become like Congress under Bush: an ineffectual, craven talking
shop that has debated Iraq only twice in two and a half years. With
one important exception, regressive measure after measure has been waved
through: from the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to the Prevention of Terrorism
Act 2005, with their mandatory sentences and house arrests ("control
orders"). A "bill to abolish parliament", as the innocuous-sounding
Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill 2006 might be known, removed
parliamentary scrutiny of government legislation, giving ministers arbitrary
powers and Downing Street the absolute power of decree. There was no
public debate. How ironic that the bill stalled in the House of Lords,
which, together with the judiciary, is now the loyal opposition.
In 2003, Blair worked the
secretive royal prerogative - Orders in Council - to order an unprovoked,
illegal attack on a defenceless country, Iraq. The following year, he
used the same archaic powers to prevent the Chagos Islanders from returning
to their homeland in the Indian Ocean, from which they were secretly
expelled so that the Americans could build a huge military base there.
Last May, the high court described the treatment of these British citizens
as "repugnant, illegal and irrational".
On 16 October 2005, Bush
claimed that al-Qaeda was seeking to "establish a radical Islamic
empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia". This deeply cynical,
calculated exaggeration - reminiscent of Washington's warning of "mushroom
clouds" following 11 September 2001 - was repeated by Blair fresh
from the embrace of Rupert Murdoch, the likely source of his future
enrichment. This is the message of liberal warmongers who have sought
to be Tonier-than-thou and who salvage their spent reputations by using
big, specious words such as "Islamo fascism". They suppress
the truth that al-Qaeda is minuscule compared with the state terrorism
that kills and maims industrially, and whose cost distorts all our lives.
British state terrorism in Iraq has cost more than £7bn. The real
cost of Trident is said to be £76bn. The premises of the best
of British life that survived Margaret Thatcher have no place in this
accounting. The National Health Service and what was once the best postal
service in the world are denied subsidies uncorrupted by a rigged "free
market". Whether it is the accretions of the freeloading Blairs
or the sale of 72 Eurofighters to the medieval regime in Saudi Arabia,
complete with "commissions", or the government's refusal to
ban highly profitable cluster bombs, whose victims are mostly children
- blood and money are the essence of Blairism and its mutant liberalism.
In their 1996 new Labour
manual, The Blair Revolution: can new Labour deliver?, Peter Mandelson
and Roger Liddle highlighted Britain's "strengths" under a
Blair regime. These were multinational corporations and "aerospace"
(the arms industry) and the "pre-eminence of the City of London".
Blood and money. Of course, as in any colonial era, blood spilled is
invisible; one's faraway victims are Untermenschen - that is to say,
they are less than human and have no presence in our lives. On 11 June,
the BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce announced that prisoners in Guantanamo
Bay were committing suicide. She asked, "How damaging is it to
the Bush administration?" At the recent Labour party conference,
a cringe-making presidential occasion, Blair, wrote Jon Snow, demonstrated
"oratorical mastery and matey finesse". Indeed, he was "a
leader for his time, in a time when Britain needed exactly such leadership".
Those who have peeled back
the façades of the Blair and Bush gangs ought not to be des pondent.
The inspiring demonstration on 15 February 2003 may not have stopped
an invasion, but the same universal power of public morality has, I
believe, stalled attacks on Iran and North Korea, probably with "tactical"
nuclear weapons. This moral force is undoubtedly stirring again all
over the world, including the United States, and is feared by those
who would contrive an "endless war". However, if I have learned
nothing else from witnessing numerous bloody contrivances, it is never
to underestimate the stamina of rampant, rapacious empire and the dishonesty
of its "humanitarian interventions". Millions of us, who are
the majority, need to raise our voices again, more urgently now than
This article first appeared
in the New Statesman
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