America's two "great victories" since 11 September 2001 are unravelling. In Afghanistan, the regime of Hamid Karzai has virtually no authority and no money, and would collapse without American guns. Al-Qaeda has not been defeated, and the Taliban are re-emerging. Regardless of showcase improvements, the situation of women and children remains desperate. The token woman in Karzai's cabinet, the courageous physician Sima Samar, has been forced out of government and is now in constant fear of her life, with an armed guard outside her office door and another at her gate. Murder, rape and child abuse are committed with impunity by the private armies of America's "friends", the warlords whom Washington has bribed with millions of dollars, cash in hand, to give the pretence of stability.
"We are in a combat zone the moment we leave this base," an American colonel told me at Bagram airbase, near Kabul. "We are shot at every day, several times a day." When I said that surely he had come to liberate and protect the people, he belly-laughed.
American troops are rarely seen in Afghanistan's towns. They escort US officials at high speed in armoured vans with blackened windows and military vehicles, mounted with machine-guns, in front and behind. Even the vast Bagram base was considered too insecure for the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, during his recent, fleeting visit. So nervous are the Americans that a few weeks ago they "accidentally" shot dead four government soldiers in the centre of Kabul, igniting the second major street protest against their presence in a week.
On the day I left Kabul, a car bomb exploded on the road to the airport, killing four German soldiers, members of the international security force Isaf. The Germans' bus was lifted into the air; human flesh lay on the roadside. When British soldiers arrived to "seal off" the area, they were watched by a silent crowd, squinting into the heat and dust, across a divide as wide as that which separated British troops from Afghans in the 19th century, and the French from Algerians and Americans from Vietnamese.
In Iraq, scene of the second "great victory", there are two open secrets. The first is that the "terrorists" now besieging the American occupation force represent an armed resistance that is almost certainly supported by the majority of Iraqis who, contrary to pre-war propaganda, opposed their enforced "liberation" (see Jonathan Steele's investigation, 19 March 2003, www.guardian.co.uk). The second secret is that there is emerging evidence of the true scale of the Anglo-American killing, pointing to the bloodbath Bush and Blair have always denied.
Comparisons with Vietnam have been made so often over the years that I hesitate to draw another. However, the similarities are striking: for example, the return of expressions such as "sucked into a quagmire". This suggests, once again, that the Americans are victims, not invaders: the approved Hollywood version when a rapacious adventure goes wrong. Since Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled almost three months ago, more Americans have been killed than during the war. Ten have been killed and 25 wounded in classic guerrilla attacks on roadblocks and checkpoints which may number as many as a dozen a day.
The Americans call the guerrillas "Saddam loyalists" and "Ba'athist fighters", in the same way they used to dismiss the Vietnamese as "communists". Recently, in Falluja, in the Sunni heartland of Iraq, it was clearly not the presence of Ba'athists or Saddamists, but the brutal behaviour of the occupiers, who fired point-blank at a crowd, that inspired the resistance. The American tanks gunning down a family of shepherds is reminiscent of the gunning down of a shepherd, his family and sheep by "coalition" aircraft in a "no-fly zone" four years ago, whose aftermath I filmed and which evoked, for me, the murderous games American aircraft used to play in Vietnam, gunning down farmers in their fields, children on their buffaloes.
On 12 June, a large American force attacked a "terrorist base" north of Baghdad and left more than 100 dead, according to a US spokesman. The term "terrorist" is important, because it implies that the likes of al-Qaeda are attacking the liberators, and so the connection between Iraq and 11 September is made, which in pre-war propaganda was never made.
More than 400 prisoners were taken in this operation. The majority have reportedly joined thousands of Iraqis in a "holding facility" at Baghdad airport: a concentration camp along the lines of Bagram, from where people are shipped to Guantanamo Bay. In Afghanistan, the Americans pick up taxi drivers and send them into oblivion, via Bagram. Like Pinochet's boys in Chile, they are making their perceived enemies "disappear".
"Search and destroy", the scorched-earth tactic from Vietnam, is back. In the arid south-eastern plains of Afghanistan, the village of Niazi Qala no longer stands. American airborne troops swept down before dawn on 30 December 2001 and slaughtered, among others, a wedding party. Villagers said that women and children ran towards a dried pond, seeking protection from the gunfire, and were shot as they ran. After two hours, the aircraft and the attackers left. According to a United Nations investigation, 52 people were killed, including 25 children. "We identified it as a military target," says the Pentagon, echoing its initial response to the My Lai massacre 35 years ago.
The targeting of civilians has long been a journalistic taboo in the west. Accredited monsters did that, never "us". The civilian death toll of the 1991 Gulf war was wildly underestimated. Almost a year later, a comprehensive study by the Medical Education Trust in London estimated that more than 200,000 Iraqis had died during and immediately after the war, as a direct or indirect consequence of attacks on civilian infrastructure. The report was all but ignored. This month, Iraq Body Count, a group of American and British academics and researchers, estimated that up to 10,000 civilians may have been killed in Iraq, including 2,356 civilians in the attack on Baghdad alone. And this is likely to be an extremely conservative figure.
In Afghanistan, there has been similar carnage. In May last year, Jonathan Steele extrapolated all the available field evidence of the human cost of the US bombing and concluded that as many as 20,000 Afghans may have lost their lives as an indirect consequence of the bombing, many of them drought victims denied relief.
This "hidden" effect is hardly new. A recent study at Columbia University in New York has found that the spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides on Vietnam was up to four times as great as previously estimated. Agent Orange contained dioxin, one of the deadliest poisons known. In what they first called Operation Hades, then changed to the friendlier Operation Ranch Hand, the Americans in Vietnam destroyed, in some 10,000 "missions" to spray Agent Orange, almost half the forests of southern Vietnam, and countless human lives. It was the most insidious and perhaps the most devastating use of a chemical weapon of mass destruction ever. Today, Vietnamese children continue to be born with a range of deformities, or they are stillborn, or the foetuses are aborted.
The use of uranium-tipped munitions evokes the catastrophe of Agent Orange. In the first Gulf war in 1991, the Americans and British used 350 tonnes of depleted uranium. According to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, quoting an international study, 50 tonnes of DU, if inhaled or ingested, would cause 500,000 deaths. Most of the victims are civilians in southern Iraq. It is estimated that 2,000 tonnes were used during the latest attack.
In a remarkable series of reports for the Christian Science Monitor, the investigative reporter Scott Peterson has described radiated bullets in the streets of Baghdad and radiation-contaminated tanks, where children play without warning. Belatedly, a few signs in Arabic have appeared: "Danger - Get away from this area". At the same time, in Afghanistan, the Uranium Medical Research Centre, based in Canada, has made two field studies, with the results described as "shocking". "Without exception," it reported, "at every bomb site investigated, people are ill. A significant portion of the civilian population presents symptoms consistent with internal contamination by uranium."
An official map distributed to non-government agencies in Iraq shows that the American and British military have plastered urban areas with cluster bombs, many of which will have failed to detonate on impact. These usually lie unnoticed until children pick them up, then they explode.
In the centre of Kabul, I found two ragged notices warning people that the rubble of their homes, and streets, contained unexploded cluster bombs "made in USA". Who reads them? Small children? The day I watched children skipping through what might have been an urban minefield, I saw Tony Blair on CNN in the lobby of my hotel. He was in Iraq, in Basra, lifting a child into his arms, in a school that had been painted for his visit, and where lunch had been prepared in his honour, in a city where basic services such as education, food and water remain a shambles under the British occupation.
It was in Basra three years ago that I filmed hundreds of children ill and dying because they had been denied cancer treatment equipment and drugs under an embargo enforced with enthusiasm by Tony Blair. Now here he was - shirt open, with that fixed grin, a man of the troops if not of the people - lifting a toddler into his arms for the cameras.
When I returned to London, I read "After Lunch", by Harold Pinter, from a new collection of his called War (Faber & Faber).
And after noon the well-dressed creatures come
To sniff among the dead
And have their lunch
And all the many well-dressed creatures pluck
The swollen avocados from the dust
And stir the minestrone with stray bones
And after lunch
They loll and lounge about
Decanting claret in convenient skulls
Sorry I think they just did that!
If it was used in US/UK, you better believe it, we will have the best medical scientists, nuclear scientists and lawyers who will prove within minutes that DU causes cancer.
But DU was used outside US and we don't care if it does any harm to others; hence, we deny that it causes any harm.
Remember, Agent Orange. As long as it was used in Vietnam, we denied it caused any harm. When, it was found to be used in US waters, everybody remembers how extensive its coverage was in the press and how extensive were the studies and how extensive were the law suits.
Is Iraqi life worth anything? In US eyes, it is worth nothing. However, the in US eyes, the life of a mentally deranged american is worth more than the life of an intellectual in Iraq.
You got the point.
america is cancer of this world following israel and followed by uk..really when i look back at history then i see its only europeans who have made this world a hell.. i dont want to sound racist but its true and problem is that they still dont remorse it and keep doing it. this is one of the worst race after jews in history of world.. and by the way for alaine, a food of thought is that UN have proved that depleted uranium does enhance cancers from the cases of Bosina war where also depleted uranium was used.. its not UN but america who then said their scientists dont have proof so they wont stop using it in iraq occupation.. funny and frustrating.. aint it?
may this world be safe place..amen
Have you heard of Vanunu or you are the type that has New York Times for breakfast!
John Pilger is an artist; you have to give him that. From the first lines of text, we are in Vietnam, shortly before the debacle. Pilger writes always at the very limit of the controllable and acceptable. He is a specialist, with, what, 40 years, of experience. And he is doing a good job, raising awareness in the west about the not-so-glorious and not-glorious-at-all sides of affairs which agitate the world, mostly wars. But for doing so, he has to do something a "normal" journalist should not do: he is constantly led by a pre-conceived opinion and cherry-picks all facts supporting it while ignoring all the rest and systematically presents his views in a carefully shaded light that reinforces his writings. He doesn't write, he is making written movies, packing events stretching over several years (dozens of years if you count Vietnam, in the background here, which I won't comment here) in a short emotion-loaded and brilliant clip.
But do Americans really "pick up [Afghani] taxi drivers and send them into oblivion", "like Pinochet"? What strategy would that be?
But did Americans really cold-bloodedly attack a wedding party in Afghanistan? What for? It is tragic indeed, but to say it now is not information. What is it?
I failed to find the "comprehensive study by the Medical Education Trust". Is it "War Crime and Medicine"? Where can I get this study, how is it titled, in which form was it published?
According to Pilger, iraqbodycount.net would be "up to 10,000" dead civilians. On the net, later in time, I read between 5570 min. and 7243 max. Pilger adds that this is "likely to be an extremely conservative figure". Well, that must be why he corrected his version beforehand.
It was All About Oil; and it is still about Oil.
So US/UK are going to stay in Iraq till Iraq runs out of Oil. Looks like it is a going to be war for next 25 years or so.
Idem, to some extent, for depleted uranium. As he doesn't find any good figures (no cancer could be demonstrated yet to be due to uranium, natural or depleted [= less radioactive than natural uranium]), Pilger says that a certain quantity of it "if inhaled or ingested, would cause 500,000 deaths". Uranium is indeed poisonous as a heavy metal and sure is a real concern as such, but the WHO states that "No study has established a link between exposure to DU and the onset of cancers or congenital abnormalities" (this paper and other ones at www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/pub_meet/ir_pub/en), which is what is supposed to have happened in Iraq. I don't have the final word on that issue, but I doubt that Pilger does.
Have some "unexploded cluster bomb made in USA" already made victims in the "homes and streets" of Iraqis, as you get the impression reading this article? Well, Pilger only says he found "ragged notices warning people about it". You have to work with what you find indeed.
For the rest, we have to admit that the embargo was nastily "enforced with enthusiasm" by Tony Blair, as though Mr. Blair would fixedly grin thinking of the suffering of sick Iraqi children. Who is sick here?
Obviously, for John Pilger, the results justify the means. And he might very well be right in this specific realm. It is a dirty job to argue against him, because he is talented and he is right to condemn wars and, in the last analysis, all war-supporters. But what about those who just copy and publish away his stuff as if it was the whole truth and nothing but the truth?