A Panorama of Disgrace

How fitting. A hundred years after possibly the most grotesque of Britain’s many military disasters, known as the Battle of the Somme, the long-awaited Chilcot Report into yet another grotesque British military disaster is finally due to be published. Given that the British establishment is not well-known for confessing its many faults, I’m not expecting much.

The single most significant factor that permits these military catastrophes to endlessly recur year after year, decade after decade, is a complicit mainstream press. Far from “holding government to account”, as it often claims as justification for its existence, mainstream news media is used instead to promote the crimes of government. Nothing shows this better than their unswerving support for war.

A few weeks prior to the start of the Somme offensive, General Douglas Haig, head of the British army in Europe, wrote to the senior editors of British newspapers and told them:

The nation must be taught to bear losses.

Now why might he do that? Why write to the main newspapers immediately prior to a mass slaughter if not to demand their unquestioning cooperation for his psychopathic plans? The support was willingly provided.

The cosy collusion between the warmongers and the mainstream press was illustrated by the British Prime Minister, Lloyd-George who, in a breakfast meeting with C.P. Snow, editor of the Manchester Guardian, said:

If people really knew, the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and can’t know. [Newspaper] correspondents don’t write and the censorship would not pass the truth.1

Later, shortly after the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks released the secret treaties agreed between the allied powers for the carving-up of the Turkish Empire after the war. Instead of making these public, which would have gone a long way to holding government to account, the editors of The Times agreed instead,

not to inconvenience the British, French and Italian governments, and to maintain silence about the Secret Treaties… As the governments themselves were bound by the Treaties to be silent, The Times decided it could only follow their example.2

So here we have the nation’s premier institution for supposedly holding government to account choosing “not to inconvenience” government?

Little has really changed. Most people are still incapable of believing that even the tabloids would seriously deceive them, let alone hallowed institutions such as The Times newspaper and the BBC. But they are wrong.

No one does disgraceful misinformation quite like the BBC. I think it was Thomas Hardy who was credited with saying “The truth, carefully crafted, is the biggest lie of all”. It should be the motto for Britain’s flagship news provider.

On June 29th BBC’s Panorama, which is state of the art, screened “Iraq: the final judgement” in anticipation of the massively expensive, years overdue Chilcot Report into the catastrophe of the 2003 Iraq War. Many people know the war was illegal. We pretty much knew it at the time, which is why I resigned my civil service job, and millions of marchers protested through the streets of London and other European cities before the war even started.

I say war, but that would be too kind and generous, bestowing a kind of heroic dignity to that abomination. It was a slaughter, one massive war crime, a monstrous atrocity against humanity. Anything Chilcot says that does not result in Tony Blair’s immediate removal to the International Criminal Court to stand trial for his war crimes, together with all his fellow conspirators – the decision-makers and generals who willingly obeyed him, Alistair Campbell and the shameful media moguls who provided the propaganda to trick the nation into supporting the “shock and awe” – will be a whitewash.

The Panorama special, presented by Jane Corbin, suggested a scapegoat has been prepared: it looks like intelligence services may take the fall, for we saw Tony Blair saying “The intelligence was wrong,” and we saw Christopher Meyer, British ambassador to the US at the time, saying the intelligence was faulty.

But there was little wrong with the intelligence. Highly respected experts and UN officials such as Scott Ritter, Dennis Halliday and Hans Blix – all of whom were intimately acquainted with Iraq at the time – exposed the WMD claim for the myth it was long before Bush and Blair began their “shock and awe”. Neither British nor US intelligence services could provide evidence of the so-called WMDs, and warned that “the threat from terrorism might be heightened by military action” in Iraq. Blix appeared on last week’s Panorama, with a few carefully guarded statements, but the more outspoken Ritter and Halliday did not. Nor did other expert critical analysts such as John Pilger, or Felicity Arbuthnot.

Panorama showed the utter devastation of Basra’s essential infrastructure just after “shock and awe” began – such as destroyed water supplies. Basra was once a beautiful place, the Venice of the Middle East. Water supplies were “deliberately run down by Saddam”, said Jane Corbin, suggesting (suggestion is a powerful tool of propaganda) that the devastation was all the fault of Saddam Hussein, and therefore evidence of why he had to be removed. But Saddam had almost nothing to do with the condition of Basra prior to “shock and awe”. No connection was made by the makers of Panorama between the destroyed water supplies and the coalition’s bombing of Basra. No connection was made between the destroyed water supplies and the coalition’s previous twelve years of vicious trade sanctions, which are known to have killed at least half a million Iraqi children through want of essential imports – from life-saving medicines, to spare parts for water treatment plants.

Panorama showed us some of the looting of Baghdad’s government ministries as coalition troops watched on “helplessly” – ministries that had already been destroyed by coalition bombing. Bush and Blair’s precision bombs precisely destroyed most government buildings, including schools and hospitals, power stations and water treatment facilities. But Panorama did not show us the one Iraqi ministry in Baghdad that miraculously escaped all the bombing, and which was immediately protected from local looters by American tanks, razor wire, US Marines and snipers. The Oil Ministry, with all its precious information about Iraqi oilfields, somehow survived the holocaust unscathed.3

Panorama devoted quite a large segment to the suggestion that sectarianism between Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’a Moslems was a long-standing conflict which Iran was quick to exploit immediately after the “shock and awe”. “Iran was stirring up trouble,” said Jane Corbin without any evidence whatsoever. Her programme linked images of sinister-looking masked gunmen to its anti-Iranian rhetoric; but the gunmen could as easily have been working for the coalition or Israel, as Iran. And given that the coalition largely abdicated all responsibility for civilian policing of the land they destroyed, is it really that surprising that Iraqis should try to do it themselves, with whatever help they could get?

The suggestion of long-standing Iraqi sectarianism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny because the fact is that Sunni and Shi’a had lived in relative harmony throughout the Middle East for centuries – pretty much up until the time the west learned that most of the world’s oilfields were there. Many experts on Iraq, such as writer and journalist Greg Muttitt, describe how, prior to 2003, many Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a were friends and neighbours with each other, worked together, and intermarried; how they saw themselves as Iraqi first and Sunni or Shi’a second; how many never knew, or cared, whether the stranger they were talking to was Sunni or Shi’a.4 But Panorama never mentioned that. It was the coalition who fostered Iraqi sectarianism as the basis for their ancient tried and tested tool of empire, divide and rule.

Panorama, like most of the BBC’s news reports, provided some factual information. But they were carefully selected facts, clipped and groomed and crafted to perfection. Inconvenient facts were judiciously avoided. But the programme did get one thing right. Its closing words were from the mouth of Mrs Maureen Bacon, the mother of one of the British victims of Blair’s war crime. “We should never ever have invaded Iraq,” she said, “Never. Never” Millions of us said that at the time, including Mrs Bacon, who marched in protest with a million others through the streets of London; but most of the nation including, presumably, her son, was tricked into believing lying politicians, the generals, the BBC, and other pillars of the mainstream media instead.

It goes without saying that it would be right and proper for Blair, Bush and all the other main players to account for their crimes. But room in the dock should also be reserved for the mainstream media who, from the Somme to Syria, love nothing better than a blood-soaked war.

  1. The First Casualty by Philip Knightley, p. 109 []
  2. Ibid. p. 150 []
  3. Fuel on the fire by Greg Muttitt p. 48. []
  4. Ibid. p. 78. []
John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non-Fiction books by John are: The People's Constitution (2018 Edition); and The School of Kindness (2018 Edition); and his historical novel The Road to Emily Bay Read other articles by John.