By John Pilger, Former Mirror Newspaper Chief Foreign Correspondent.
First published in the Mirror October 2001.
The war against terrorism is a fraud. After three weeks’ bombing, not a single terrorist implicated in the attacks on America has been caught or killed in Afghanistan.
Instead, one of the poorest, most stricken nations has been terrorised by the most powerful – to the point where American pilots have run out of dubious “military” targets and are now destroying mud houses, a hospital, Red Cross warehouses, lorries carrying refugees.
Unlike the relentless pictures from New York, we are seeing almost nothing of this. Tony Blair has yet to tell us what the violent death of children – seven in one family – has to do with Osama bin Laden.
And why are cluster bombs being used? The British public should know about these bombs, which the RAF also uses. They spray hundreds of bomblets that have only one purpose; to kill and maim people. Those that do not explode lie on the ground like landmines, waiting for people to step on them.
If ever a weapon was designed specifically for acts of terrorism, this is it. I have seen the victims of American cluster weapons in other countries, such as the Laotian toddler who picked one up and had her right leg and face blown off. Be assured this is now happening in Afghanistan, in your name.
None of those directly involved in the September 11 atrocity was Afghani. Most were Saudis, who apparently did their planning and training in Germany and the United States.
The camps which the Taliban allowed bin Laden to use were emptied weeks ago. Moreover, the Taliban itself is a creation of the Americans and the British. In the 1980s, the tribal army that produced them was funded by the CIA and trained by the SAS to fight the Russians.
The hypocrisy does not stop there. When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Washington said nothing. Why? Because Taliban leaders were soon on their way to Houston, Texas, to be entertained by executives of the oil company, Unocal.
With secret US government approval, the company offered them a generous cut of the profits of the oil and gas pumped through a pipeline that the Americans wanted to build from Soviet central Asia through Afghanistan.
A US diplomat said: “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did.” He explained that Afghanistan would become an American oil colony, there would be huge profits for the West, no democracy and the legal persecution of women. “We can live with that,” he said.
Although the deal fell through, it remains an urgent priority of the administration of George W. Bush, which is steeped in the oil industry. Bush’s concealed agenda is to exploit the oil and gas reserves in the Caspian basin, the greatest source of untapped fossil fuel on earth and enough, according to one estimate, to meet America’s voracious energy needs for a generation. Only if the pipeline runs through Afghanistan can the Americans hope to control it.
So, not surprisingly, US Secretary of State Colin Powell is now referring to “moderate” Taliban, who will join an American-sponsored “loose federation” to run Afghanistan. The “war on terrorism” is a cover for this: a means of achieving American strategic aims that lie behind the flag-waving facade of great power.
The Royal Marines, who will do the real dirty work, will be little more than mercenaries for Washington’s imperial ambitions, not to mention the extraordinary pretensions of Blair himself. Having made Britain a target for terrorism with his bellicose “shoulder to shoulder” with Bush nonsense, he is now prepared to send troops to a battlefield where the goals are so uncertain that even the Chief of the Defence Staff says the conflict “could last 50 years”.
The irresponsibility of this is breathtaking; the pressure on Pakistan alone could ignite an unprecedented crisis across the Indian sub-continent. Having reported many wars, I am always struck by the absurdity of effete politicians eager to wave farewell to young soldiers, but who themselves would not say boo to a Taliban goose.
In the days of gunboats, our imperial leaders covered their violence in the “morality” of their actions. Blair is no different. Like them, his selective moralising omits the most basic truth. Nothing justified the killing of innocent people in America on September 11, and nothing justifies the killing of innocent people anywhere else.
By killing innocents in Afghanistan, Blair and Bush stoop to the level of the criminal outrage in New York. Once you cluster bomb, “mistakes” and “blunders” are a pretence. Murder is murder, regardless of whether you crash a plane into a building or order and collude with it from the Oval Office and Downing Street.
If Blair was really opposed to all forms of terrorism, he would get Britain out of the arms trade. On the day of the twin towers attack, an “arms fair”, selling weapons of terror (like cluster bombs and missiles) to assorted tyrants and human rights abusers, opened in London’s Docklands with the full backing of the Blair government.
Britain’s biggest arms customer is the medieval Saudi regime, which beheads heretics and spawned the religious fanaticism of the Taliban.
If he really wanted to demonstrate “the moral fibre of Britain”, Blair would do everything in his power to lift the threat of violence in those parts of the world where there is great and justifiable grievance and anger.
He would do more than make gestures; he would demand that Israel ends its illegal occupation of Palestine and withdraw to its borders prior to the 1967 war, as ordered by the Security Council, of which Britain is a permanent member.
He would call for an end to the genocidal blockade which the UN – in reality, America and Britain – has imposed on the suffering people of Iraq for more than a decade, causing the deaths of half a million children under the age of five.
That’s more deaths of infants every month than the number killed in the World Trade Center.
There are signs that Washington is about to extend its current “war” to Iraq; yet unknown to most of us, almost every day RAF and American aircraft already bomb Iraq. There are no headlines. There is nothing on the TV news. This terror is the longest-running Anglo-American bombing campaign since World War Two.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the US and Britain faced a “dilemma” in Iraq, because “few targets remain”. “We’re down to the last outhouse,” said a US official. That was two years ago, and they’re still bombing. The cost to the British taxpayer? £800 million so far.
According to an internal UN report, covering a five-month period, 41 per cent of the casualties are civilians. In northern Iraq, I met a woman whose husband and four children were among the deaths listed in the report. He was a shepherd, who was tending his sheep with his elderly father and his children when two planes attacked them, each making a sweep. It was an open valley; there were no military targets nearby.
“I want to see the pilot who did this,” said the widow at the graveside of her entire family. For them, there was no service in St Paul’s Cathedral with the Queen in attendance; no rock concert with Paul McCartney.
The tragedy of the Iraqis, and the Palestinians, and the Afghanis is a truth that is the very opposite of their caricatures in much of the Western media.
Far from being the terrorists of the world, the overwhelming majority of the Islamic peoples of the Middle East and south Asia have been its victims – victims largely of the West’s exploitation of precious natural resources in or near their countries.
There is no war on terrorism. If there was, the Royal Marines and the SAS would be storming the beaches of Florida, where more CIA-funded terrorists, ex-Latin American dictators and torturers, are given refuge than anywhere on earth.
There is, however, a continuing war of the powerful against the powerless, with new excuses, new hidden agendas, new lies. Before another child dies violently, or quietly from starvation, before new fanatics are created in both the east and the west, it is time for the people of Britain to make their voices heard and to stop this fraudulent war – and to demand the kind of bold, imaginative non-violent initiatives that require real political courage.
The other day, the parents of Greg Rodriguez, a young man who died in the World Trade Center, said this: “We read enough of the news to sense that our government is heading in the direction of violent revenge, with the prospect of sons, daughters, parents, friends in distant lands dying, suffering, and nursing further grievances against us.
“It is not the way to go…not in our son’s name.”