War Comes Home to Britain

Freedom is being lost in Britain. The land of Magna Carta is now the land of secret gagging orders, secret trials and imprisonment. The government will soon know about every phone call, every e-mail, every text message. Police can willfully shoot to death an innocent man, lie and expect to get away with it. Whole communities now fear the state. The foreign secretary routinely covers up allegations of torture; the justice secretary routinely prevents the release of critical cabinet minutes taken when Iraq was illegally invaded. The litany is cursory; there is much more.

Indeed, there is so much more that the erosion of liberal freedoms is symptomatic of an evolved criminal state. The haven for Russian oligarchs, together with corruption of the tax and banking systems and of once-admired public services such as the Post Office, is one side of the coin; the other is the invisible carnage of failed colonial wars. Historically, the pattern is familiar. As the colonial crimes in Algeria, Vietnam and Afghanistan blew back to their perpetrators, France, the United States and the Soviet Union, so the cancerous effects of Britain’s cynicism in Iraq and Afghanistan have come home.

The most obvious example is the bombing atrocities in London on 7 July 2005; no one in the British intelligence mandarinate doubts these were a gift of Blair. “Terrorism” describes only the few acts of individuals and groups, not the constant, industrial violence of great powers. Suppressing this truth is left to the credible media. On 27 February, the Guardian’s Washington correspondent, Ewen MacAskill, in reporting President Obama’s statement that America was finally leaving Iraq, as if it were fact, wrote: “For Iraq, the death toll is unknown, in the tens of thousands, victims of the war, a nationalist uprising, sectarian in-fighting and jihadists attracted by the US presence.” Thus, the Anglo-American invaders are merely a “presence” and not directly responsible for the “unknown” number of Iraqi deaths. Such contortion of intellect is impressive.

In January last year, a report by the respected Opinion Research Business (ORB) revised an earlier assessment of deaths in Iraq to 1,033,000. This followed an exhaustive, peer-reviewed study in 2006 by the world-renowned John Hopkins School of Public Health in the US, published in The Lancet, which found that 655,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the invasion. US and British officials immediately dismissed the report as “flawed” — a deliberate deception. Foreign Office papers obtained under Freedom of Information disclose a memo written by the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Roy Anderson, in which he praised The Lancet report, describing it as “robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to ‘best practice’ given [the conditions] in Iraq.” An adviser to the prime minister commented: “The survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones.” Speaking a few days later, a Foreign Office minister, Lord Triesman, said, “The way in which data are extrapolated from samples to a general outcome is a matter of deep concern.”

The episode exemplifies the scale and deception of this state crime. Les Roberts, co-author of the Lancet study, has since argued that Britain and America might have caused in Iraq “an episode more deadly than the Rwandan genocide.” This is not news. Neither is it a critical reference in the freedoms campaign organized by the Observer columnist Henry Porter. At a conference in London on 28 February, Lord Goldsmith, Blair’s attorney-general, who notoriously changed his mind and advised the government the invasion was legal, when it wasn’t, was a speaker for freedom. So was Timothy Garton Ash, a “liberal interventionist.” On 9 April, 2003, shortly after the slaughter had begun in Iraq, a euphoric Garton Ash wrote in the Guardian: “America has never been the Great Satan. It has sometimes been the Great Gatsby: ‘They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things. . . .’ One of Britain’s jobs “is to keep reminding Tom and Daisy that they now have promises to keep.” Less frivolously, he lauded Blair for his “strong Gladstonian instincts for humanitarian intervention” and repeated the government’s propaganda about Saddam Hussein. In 2006, he wrote: “Now we face the next big test of the west after Iraq: Iran.” (my emphasis). This also adheres precisely to the propaganda; David Milliband has declared Iran a “threat” in preparation for possibly the next war.

Like so many of New Labour’s Tonier-than-thou squad, Henry Porter celebrated Blair as an almost mystical politician who “presents himself as a harmoniser for all the opposing interests in British life, a conciliator of class differences and tribal antipathies, synthesiser of opposing beliefs.” Porter dismissed as “demonic nonsense” all analysis of the 9/11 attacks that suggested there were specific causes: the consequences of violent actions taken by the powerful in the Middle East. Such thinking, he wrote, “exactly matches the views of Osama bin Laden . . . with America’s haters, that’s all there is — hatred.” This, of course, was Blair’s view.

Freedoms are being lost in Britain because of the rapid growth of the “national security state.” This form of militarism was imported from the United States by New Labour. Totalitarian in essence, it relies upon fear mongering to entrench the executive with venal legal mechanisms that progressively diminish democracy and justice. “Security” is all, as is propaganda promoting rapacious colonial wars, even as honest mistakes. Take away this propaganda, and the wars are exposed for what they are, and fear evaporates. Take away the obeisance of many in Britain’s liberal elite to American power and you demote a profound colonial and crusader mentality that covers for epic criminals like Blair. Prosecute these criminals and change the system that breeds them and you have freedom.

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Atiya said on March 4th, 2009 at 2:36pm #

    John, a very good and accurate article. I watched at home the realying of the Convention for Modern Liberty on 28th February and I was both sickened and amazed by Lord Goldsmith’s refusal to accept that we had committed a criminal offence in waging an illegal war on Iraq when this question was put to him by someone from the audience . Have these people no conscience at all! When are enough of us going to wake up and realise how low our politicians have sunk?

  2. Andres Kargar said on March 5th, 2009 at 12:30am #

    The only way the British and American people can redeem themselves is by putting their leaders on trial for crimes against humanity and treason against the country.

    How dare the farcical International Criminal Court issue arrest warrant for Sudan’s president when they do not have the spine to point the finger at the biggest war criminals: George Bush, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown?

    The people of America and Britain have some clear choices before them: Stand up to their ruling classes or face a future of fascism.

  3. mary said on March 5th, 2009 at 5:20am #

    The usual powerful words from John Pilger.

    Watching Brown in Congress yesterday receiving seventeen ridiculous standing ovations with cheerleaders Biden and Pelosi standing grinning behind him, I could see that nothing has changed. There were many references in his speech to war, the glory of dying for your country, standing together against ‘terrorism’ just as the US and UK stood together in WWII coupled with references back to his childhood at the Manse and his father’s homilies thrown in for good measure. This part of his speech seemed to have been constructed solely to bolster the military-industrial complex. We even had mention of ‘ the shining city on the hill’ but this time it was Washington and not his usual reference to Jerusalem. A reminder here that he is Patron of the British Jewish National Fund and that he will be receiving the 2009 Appeal of Conscience World Statesman Award from Rabbi Schneier!!


    There were the usual throwaways at the end about climate change, the need to reform banking values (what a hope) and reducing poverty and disease in the Third World.

    Blair has recently received the Dan David prize for Present Leadership together with a nice US$1 million cheque which is apparently going to his Faith Foundation. Could there be anything more ludicrous than that?


    In the meantime please join the 2,071 others to date who have signed this petition to have Brown’s predecessor Blair arraigned for his war crimes and remember that Brown, Straw, Hoon, Reid et al were members of his various Cabinets in those disastrous 11 years from 1997 – 2008.


  4. bozh said on March 5th, 2009 at 8:41am #

    well, there are people who know there is god. they do say that they believe in god but actually they mean to say that they know god.

    the underlying processes for such delusional evaluations are in the brain. these processes are not studied at this time or if studied, not yet discovered.

    politicians also know that their country cannot do any wrongs. pols, et al, have been conditioned over a life time that their country is noble, generous, just, etc.

    once conditioning is completed, most people do not ever escape it. thus, labeling these people will not help our cause.

    unfortunately for us humans and our biota, a brain does not know right from wrong.
    one way in which we can ameliorate this situation is to talk, educate and not blame, condemn, accuse, etc.
    one cannot win hearts and minds of people by anger/hate towards people who have ben so vastly miseducated. thnx

  5. Gary Corseri said on March 5th, 2009 at 12:36pm #

    Another first-rater from John Pilger!

    And, oh, so sadly true: the rise of the “National Security State” (which sounds eerily a bit like the rise of National Socialism, when one thinks about it!)–the rise of it there in Merry Ole (Imperialist Rule-the-World) England and the rise of it here in the Land of the Free (and Home of the Couch Potatoes) assures us many more years of death and destruction, war-is-hell glorification, utter loss of attenuated liberties, infantilism of the masses, and atherosclerosis among the punditocracy.

    Mary, rest assured that what you saw on the telly in Britain, we did not see here! (Although we did hear that Edward Kennedy had been knighted by your fat queen–Helen Mirren notwithstanding! (We can expect the Queen to break out the seegars any day now, chomp a few like Churchie and hold up the “V” for Victory sign.)

    Welcome to the New World Order (which also sounds like National Socialism!). Thanks, John Pilger, for playing Virgil to our lost-in-the-woods Dantes.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain said on March 18th, 2009 at 4:26am #

    At least mary seems to get it. The whole evil enterprise can be summed up in one word. Judeofascism. As long as Judaic money power controls the US and UK, and much of the West, and Israel is dominated by fascist, racist, psychopaths, and any criticism of Israel’s determination to foment global religious war, allied with Western ‘Christian Zionist’ dupes, eager for an Armageddon where they expect their fair-weather Judaic ‘friends’ to be obliterated, is vilified as ‘anti-Semitism’,then we are stuffed. The level of repression in the UK now is nothing to what will be needed as the depression deepens, and Israel obliterates the defenceless Gazans again, and attempts to do likewise with Lebanon and Iran. All to protect one tiny, virulently racist, colonial state from being forced to act decently and cease the brutal persecution of an imprisoned population numbering in the millions.