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November 12, 2004

Iraq: The Unthinkable Becomes Normal

by John Pilger

Edward S. Herman's landmark essay, "The Banality of Evil," has never

seemed more apposite. "Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic

way rests on 'normalization,'" wrote Herman. "There is usually a division of

labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with the direct

brutalizing and killing done by one set of individuals ... others working on

improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more

adhesive napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace

patterns). It is the function of the experts, and the mainstream media, to

normalize the unthinkable for the general public."

On Radio 4's Today (Nov. 6), a BBC reporter in Baghdad referred to the

coming attack on the city of Fallujah as "dangerous" and "very dangerous"

for the Americans. When asked about civilians, he said, reassuringly, that

the U.S. Marines were "going about with a Tannoy" telling people to get out.

He omitted to say that tens of thousands of people would be left in the

city. He mentioned in passing the "most intense bombing" of the city with no

suggestion of what that meant for people beneath the bombs.

As for the defenders, those Iraqis who resist in a city that

heroically defied Saddam Hussein; they were merely "insurgents holed up in

the city," as if they were an alien body, a lesser form of life to be

"flushed out" (the Guardian): a suitable quarry for "rat-catchers," which is

the term another BBC reporter told us the Black Watch use. According to a

senior British officer, the Americans view Iraqis as Untermenschen, a term

that Hitler used in Mein Kampf to describe Jews, Romanies, and Slavs as

subhumans. This is how the Nazi army laid siege to Russian cities,

slaughtering combatants and non-combatants alike.

Normalizing colonial crimes like the attack on Fallujah requires such

racism, linking our imagination to "the other." The thrust of the reporting

is that the "insurgents" are led by sinister foreigners of the kind that

behead people: for example, by Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian said to be

al-Qaeda's "top operative" in Iraq. This is what the Americans say; it is

also Blair's latest lie to parliament. Count the times it is parroted at a

camera, at us. No irony is noted that the foreigners in Iraq are

overwhelmingly American and, by all indications, loathed. These indications

come from apparently credible polling organizations, one of which estimates

that of 2,700 attacks every month by the resistance, six can be credited to

the infamous al-Zarqawi.

In a letter sent on Oct. 14 to Kofi Annan, the Fallujah Shura Council,

which administers the city, said: "In Fallujah, [the Americans] have created

a new vague target: al-Zarqawi. Almost a year has elapsed since they created

this new pretext, and whenever they destroy houses, mosques, restaurants,

and kill children and women, they said: 'We have launched a successful

operation against al-Zarqawi.' The people of Fallujah assure you that this

person, if he exists, is not in Fallujah ... and we have no links to any

groups supporting such inhuman behavior. We appeal to you to urge the UN [to

prevent] the new massacre which the Americans and the puppet government are

planning to start soon in Fallujah, as well as many parts of the country."

Not a word of this was reported in the mainstream media in Britain and


"What does it take to shock them out of their baffling silence?" asked

the playwright Ronan Bennett in April after the U.S. Marines, in an act of

collective vengeance for the killing of four American mercenaries, killed

more than 600 people in Fallujah, a figure that was never denied. Then, as

now, they used the ferocious firepower of AC-130 gunships and F-16

fighter-bombers and 500-lb. bombs against slums. They incinerate children;

their snipers boast of killing anyone, as snipers did in Sarajevo.

Bennett was referring to the legion of silent Labour backbenchers,

with honorable exceptions, and lobotomized junior ministers (remember Chris

Mullin?). He might have added those journalists who strain every sinew to

protect "our" side, who normalize the unthinkable by not even gesturing at

the demonstrable immorality and criminality. Of course, to be shocked by

what "we" do is dangerous, because this can lead to a wider understanding of

why "we" are there in the first place and of the grief "we" bring not only

to Iraq, but to so many parts of the world: that the terrorism of al-Qaeda

is puny by comparison with ours.

There is nothing illicit about this cover-up; it happens in daylight.

The most striking recent example followed the announcement, on Oct. 29, by

the prestigious scientific journal, the Lancet, of a study estimating that

100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the Anglo-American invasion.

Eighty-four percent of the deaths were caused by the actions of the

Americans and the British, and 95 percent of these were killed by air

attacks and artillery fire, most of whom were women and children.

The editors of the excellent MediaLens observed the rush - no,

stampede - to smother this shocking news with "skepticism" and silence. They

reported that, by Nov. 2, the Lancet report had been ignored by the

Observer, the Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the Financial Times, the

Star, the Sun, and many others. The BBC framed the report in terms of the

government's "doubts" and Channel 4 News delivered a hatchet job, based on a

Downing Street briefing. With one exception, none of the scientists who

compiled this rigorously peer-reviewed report was asked to substantiate

their work until ten days later when the pro-war Observer published an

interview with the editor of the Lancet, slanted so that it appeared he was

"answering his critics." David Edwards, a MediaLens editor, asked the

researchers to respond to the media criticism; their meticulous demolition

can be viewed on the alert for Nov. 2. None of this was published in the

mainstream. Thus, the unthinkable that "we" had engaged in such a slaughter

was suppressed - normalized. It is reminiscent of the suppression of the

death of more than a million Iraqis, including half a million infants under

five, as a result of the Anglo-American-driven embargo.


In contrast, there is no media questioning of the methodology of the

Iraqi Special Tribune, which has announced that mass graves contain 300,000

victims of Saddam Hussein. The Special Tribune, a product of the quisling

regime in Baghdad, is run by the Americans; respected scientists want

nothing to do with it. There is no questioning of what the BBC calls "Iraq's

first democratic elections." There is no reporting of how the Americans have

assumed control over the electoral process with two decrees passed in June

that allow an "electoral commission" in effect to eliminate parties

Washington does not like. Time magazine reports that the CIA is buying its

preferred candidates, which is how the agency has fixed elections over the

world. When or if the elections take place, we will be doused in clichés

about the nobility of voting, as America's puppets are "democratically"


The model for this was the "coverage" of the American presidential

election, a blizzard of platitudes normalizing the unthinkable: that what

happened on Nov. 2 was not democracy in action. With one exception, no one

in the flock of pundits flown from London described the circus of Bush and

Kerry as the contrivance of fewer than 1 percent of the population, the

ultra-rich and powerful who control and manage a permanent war economy. That

the losers were not only the Democrats, but the vast majority of Americans,

regardless of whom they voted for, was unmentionable.

No one reported that John Kerry, by contrasting the "war on terror"

with Bush's disastrous attack on Iraq, merely exploited public distrust of

the invasion to build support for American dominance throughout the world.

"I'm not talking about leaving [Iraq]," said Kerry. "I'm talking about

winning!" In this way, both he and Bush shifted the agenda even further to

the right, so that millions of antiwar Democrats might be persuaded that the

U.S. has "the responsibility to finish the job" lest there be "chaos." The

issue in the presidential campaign was neither Bush nor Kerry, but a war

economy aimed at conquest abroad and economic division at home. The silence

on this was comprehensive, both in America and here.

Bush won by invoking, more skillfully than Kerry, the fear of an

ill-defined threat. How was he able to normalize this paranoia? Let's look

at the recent past. Following the end of the cold war, the American elite -

Republican and Democrat - were having great difficulty convincing the public

that the billions of dollars spent on the war economy should not be diverted

to a "peace dividend." A majority of Americans refused to believe that there

was still a "threat" as potent as the red menace. This did not prevent Bill

Clinton sending to Congress the biggest "defense" bill in history in support

of a Pentagon strategy called "full-spectrum dominance." On Sept. 11, 2001,

the threat was given a name: Islam.

Flying into Philadelphia recently, I spotted the Kean congressional

report on Sept. 11 from the 9/11 Commission on sale at the bookstalls. "How

many do you sell?" I asked. "One or two," was the reply. "It'll disappear

soon." Yet, this modest, blue-covered book is a revelation. Like the Butler

report in the UK, which detailed all the incriminating evidence of Blair's

massaging of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq, then pulled its

punches and concluded nobody was responsible, so the Kean report makes

excruciatingly clear what really happened, then fails to draw the

conclusions that stare it in the face. It is a supreme act of normalizing

the unthinkable. This is not surprising, as the conclusions are volcanic.

The most important evidence to the 9/11 Commission came from General

Ralph Eberhart, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command

(Norad). "Air Force jet fighters could have intercepted hijacked airliners

roaring towards the World Trade Center and Pentagon," he said, "if only air

traffic controllers had asked for help 13 minutes sooner. ... We would have

been able to shoot down all three ... all four of them."

Why did this not happen?

The Kean report makes clear that "the defense of U.S. aerospace on

9/11 was not conducted in accord with preexisting training and protocols.

... If a hijack was confirmed, procedures called for the hijack coordinator

on duty to contact the Pentagon's National Military Command Center (NMCC).

... The NMCC would then seek approval from the office of the Secretary of

Defense to provide military assistance... "Uniquely, this did not happen.

The commission was told by the deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation

Authority that there was no reason the procedure was not operating that

morning. "For my 30 years of experience ..." said Monte Belger, "the NMCC

was on the net and hearing everything real-time. ... I can tell you I've

lived through dozens of hijackings ... and they were always listening in

with everybody else."

But on this occasion, they were not. The Kean report says the NMCC was

never informed. Why? Again, uniquely, all lines of communication failed, the

commission was told, to America's top military brass. Donald Rumsfeld,

secretary of defense, could not be found; and when he finally spoke to Bush

an hour and a half later, it was, says the Kean report, "a brief call in

which the subject of shoot-down authority was not discussed." As a result,

Norad's commanders were "left in the dark about what their mission was."


The report reveals that the only part of a previously fail-safe

command system that worked was in the White House where Vice President

Cheney was in effective control that day, and in close touch with the NMCC.

Why did he do nothing about the first two hijacked planes? Why was the NMCC,

the vital link, silent for the first time in its existence? Kean

ostentatiously refuses to address this. Of course, it could be due to the

most extraordinary combination of coincidences. Or it could not.

In July 2001, a top secret briefing paper prepared for Bush read: "We

[the CIA and FBI] believe that OBL [Osama bin Laden] will launch a

significant terrorist attack against U.S. and/or Israeli interests in the

coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass

casualties against U.S. facilities or interests. Attack preparations have

been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning."

On the afternoon of Sept. 11, Donald Rumsfeld, having failed to act

against those who had just attacked the United States, told his aides to set

in motion an attack on Iraq - when the evidence was nonexistent. Eighteen

months later, the invasion of Iraq, unprovoked and based on lies now

documented, took place. This epic crime is the greatest political scandal of

our time, the latest chapter in the long 20th-century history of the West's

conquests of other lands and their resources. If we allow it to be

normalized., if we refuse to question and probe the hidden agendas and

unaccountable secret power structures at the heart of "democratic"

governments and if we allow the people of Fallujah to be crushed in our

name, we surrender both democracy and humanity.


Tom Baxter

USAV 1967-69












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