Blair Criminalizes His Critics
by John Pilger
www.antiwar.com/, January 6, 2006
On Christmas Eve, I dropped in on Brian
Haw, whose hunched, pacing figure was just visible through the
freezing fog. For four and a half years, Brian has camped in Parliament
Square with a graphic display of photographs that show the terror
and suffering imposed on Iraqi children by British policies. The
effectiveness of his action was demonstrated last April when the
Blair government banned any expression of opposition within a
kilometer of Parliament. The High Court subsequently ruled that,
because his presence preceded the ban, Brian was an exception.
Day after day, night after night, season
upon season, he remains a beacon, illuminating the great crime
of Iraq and the cowardice of the House of Commons. As we talked,
two women brought him a Christmas meal and mulled wine. They thanked
him, shook his hand, and hurried on. He had never seen them before.
"That's typical of the public," he said. A man in a
pinstriped suit and tie emerged from the fog, carrying a small
wreath. ""I intend to place this at the Cenotaph and
read out the names of the dead in Iraq," he said to Brian,
who cautioned him: "You'll spend the night in cells, mate."
We watched him stride off and lay his wreath. His head bowed,
he appeared to be whispering. Thirty years ago, I watched dissidents
do something similar outside the walls of the Kremlin.
As night had covered him, he was lucky.
On Dec. 7, Maya Evans, a vegan chef aged 25, was convicted of
breaching the new Serious Organized Crime and Police Act by reading
aloud at the Cenotaph the names of 97 British soldiers killed
in Iraq. So serious was her crime that it required 14 policemen
in two vans to arrest her. She was fined and given a criminal
record for the rest of her life.
Freedom is dying.
Eighty-year-old John Catt served with
the RAF in the Second World War. Last September, he was stopped
by police in Brighton for wearing an "offensive" T-shirt,
which suggested that Bush and Blair be tried for war crimes. He
was arrested under the Terrorism Act and handcuffed, with his
arms held behind his back. The official record of the arrest says
the "purpose" of searching him was "terrorism"
and the "grounds for intervention" were "carrying
placard and T-shirt with anti-Blair info" (sic).
He is awaiting trial.
Such cases compare with others that remain
secret and beyond any form of justice: those of the foreign nationals
held at Belmarsh prison, who have never been charged, let alone
put on trial. They are held "on suspicion." Some of
the "evidence" against them, whatever it is, the Blair
government has now admitted, could have been extracted under torture
at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. They are political prisoners in
all but name. They face the prospect of being spirited out of
the country into the arms of a regime that may torture them to
death. Their isolated families, including children, are quietly
And for what? From Sept. 11, 2001, to
Sept. 30, 2005, a total of 895 people were arrested in Britain
under the Terrorism Act. Only 23 have been convicted of offenses
covered by the Act. As for real terrorists, the identity of two
of the July 7 bombers, including the suspected mastermind, was
known to MI5, and nothing was done. And Blair wants to give them
more power. Having helped to devastate Iraq, he is now killing
freedom in his own country.
Consider parallel events in the United
States. Last October, an American surgeon, loved by his patients,
was punished with 22 years in prison for founding a charity, Help
the Needy, which helped children in Iraq stricken by an economic
and humanitarian blockade imposed by America and Britain. In raising
money for infants dying from diarrhea, Dr. Rafil Dhafir broke
a siege that, according to UNICEF, had caused the deaths of half
a million under the age of five. The then attorney general of
the United States, John Ashcroft, called Dr. Dhafir, a Muslim,
a "terrorist," a description mocked by even the judge
in his politically motivated travesty of a trial.
The Dhafir case is not extraordinary.
In the same month, three U.S. Circuit Court judges ruled in favor
of the Bush regime's "right" to imprison an American
citizen "indefinitely" without charging him with a crime.
This was the case of Joseph Padilla, a petty criminal who allegedly
visited Pakistan before he was arrested at Chicago airport three
and a half years ago. He was never charged, and no evidence has
ever been presented against him. Now mired in legal complexity,
the case puts George W. Bush above the law and outlaws the Bill
of Rights. Indeed, on Nov. 14, the U.S. Senate effectively voted
to ban habeas corpus by passing an amendment that overturned a
Supreme Court ruling allowing Guantanamo prisoners access to a
federal court. Thus, the touchstone of America's most celebrated
freedom was scrapped. Without habeas corpus, a government can
simply lock away its opponents and implement a dictatorship.
A related, insidious tyranny is being
imposed across the world. For all his troubles in Iraq, Bush has
carried out the recommendations of a messianic conspiracy theory
called the Project for a New American Century. Written by his
ideological sponsors shortly before he came to power, it foresaw
his administration as a military dictatorship behind a democratic
façade: "the cavalry on a new American frontier"
guided by a blend of paranoia and megalomania. More than 700 American
bases are now placed strategically in compliant countries, notably
at the gateways to the sources of fossil fuels and encircling
the Middle East and Central Asia. "Preemptive" aggression
is policy, including the use of nuclear weapons. The chemical
warfare industry has been reinvigorated. Missile treaties have
been torn up. Space has been militarized. The powers of the president
have never been greater. The judicial system has been subverted,
along with civil liberties. The former senior CIA analyst Ray
McGovern, who once prepared the White House daily briefing, told
me that the authors of the PNAC and those now occupying positions
of executive power used to be known in Washington as "the
crazies." He said, "We should now be very worried about
In his epic acceptance of the Nobel Prize
in Literature on Dec. 7, Harold Pinter spoke of "a vast tapestry
of lies, upon which we feed." He asked why "the systematic
brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression
of independent thought" of Stalinist Russia was well known
in the West while American state crimes were merely "superficially
recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged."
A silence has reigned. Across the world,
the extinction and suffering of countless human beings can be
attributed to rampant American power, "but you wouldn't know
it," said Pinter. "It never happened. Nothing ever happened.
Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter.
It was of no interest."
To its credit, the Guardian in London
published every word of Pinter's warning. To its shame, though
unsurprising, the state television broadcaster ignored it. All
that Newsnight flatulence about the arts, all that recycled preening
for the cameras at Booker prize-giving events, yet the BBC could
not make room for Britain's greatest living dramatist, so honored,
to tell the truth.
For the BBC, it simply never happened,
just as the killing of half a million children by America's medieval
siege of Iraq during the 1990s never happened, just as the Dhafir
and Padilla trials and the Senate vote, banning freedom, never
happened. The political prisoners of Belmarsh barely exist; and
a big, brave posse of Metropolitan police never swept away Maya
Evans as she publicly grieved for British soldiers killed in the
cause of nothing, except rotten power.
Bereft of irony, but with a snigger, the
BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce introduced, as news, a Christmas propaganda
film about Bush's dogs. That happened. Now imagine Bruce reading
the following: "Here is delayed news, just in. From 1945
to 2005, the United States attempted to overthrow 50 governments,
many of them democracies, and to crush 30 popular movements fighting
tyrannical regimes. In the process, 25 countries were bombed,
causing the loss of several million lives and the despair of millions
more." (Thanks to William Blum's Rogue State, Common Courage
The icon of horror of Saddam Hussein's
rule is a 1988 film of petrified bodies in the Kurdish town of
Halabja, killed in a chemical weapons attack. The attack has been
referred to a great deal by Bush and Blair and the film shown
a great deal by the BBC. At the time, as I know from personal
experience, the Foreign Office tried to cover up the crime at
Halabja. The Americans tried to blame it on Iran. Today, in an
age of images, there are no images of the chemical weapons attack
on Fallujah in November 2004. This allowed the Americans to deny
it until they were caught out recently by investigators using
the Internet. For the BBC, American atrocities simply do not happen.
In 1999, while filming in Washington and
Iraq, I learned the true scale of bombing in what the Americans
and British then called Iraq's "no-fly zones." During
the 18 months to Jan. 14, 1999, U.S. aircraft flew 24,000 combat
missions over Iraq; almost every mission was bombing or strafing.
"We're down to the last outhouse," a U.S. official protested.
"There are still some things left [to bomb], but not many."
That was six years ago. In recent months, the air assault on Iraq
has multiplied; the effect on the ground cannot be imagined. For
the BBC, it has not happened.
The black farce extends to those pseudo-humanitarians
in the media and elsewhere, who themselves have never seen the
effects of cluster bombs and air-burst shells, yet continue to
invoke the crimes of Saddam to justify the the nightmare in Iraq
and to protect a quisling prime minister who has sold out his
country and made the world more dangerous. Curiously, some of
them insist on describing themselves as "liberals" and
"left of center," even "anti-fascists." They
want some respectability, I suppose. This is understandable, given
that the league table of carnage of Saddam Hussein was overtaken
long ago by that of their hero in Downing Street, who will next
support an attack on Iran.
This cannot change until we, in the West,
look in the mirror and confront the true aims and narcissism of
the power applied in our name: its extremes and terrorism. The
traditional double standard no longer works; there are now millions
like Brian Haw, Maya Evans, John Catt, and the man in the pinstriped
suit, with his wreath. Looking in the mirror means understanding
that a violent and undemocratic order is being imposed by those
whose actions are little different from the actions of fascists.
The difference used to be distance. Now they are bringing it home.