“A Beautiful Outpouring of Rage”

The Observer, the Great Peace March, and Nord Stream

The 20th anniversary of the illegal, unprovoked US-UK war of aggression on Iraq comes at an awkward time for a UK press currently suppressing the truth of the illegal, provoked Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s particularly awkward for our fearless watchdogs to recall the great anti-war march of 15 February 2003 when, in 2023, they are busy stifling dissent protesting America’s horrific proxy war in Ukraine.

In the Observer, Tim Adams wrote a piece under the joyous title: ‘“A beautiful outpouring of rage”: did Britain’s biggest ever protest change the world?’

Now that it doesn’t matter – Iraq hasn’t mattered, or even existed, for the UK press for years – the Guardian Media Group can allow one of its journalists to portray the protest as ‘beautiful’. Ironically, Adams’ piece is an ugly rejection of everything it professes to admire. This comment says it all: ‘Knowing what we know now, those who gathered that day in the capital were on the right side of history.’

In fact, on 15 February 2003, it was absolutely clear that we protestors ‘were on the right side of history’ on the basis of what we knew then! But 20 years on, as though caught in a time warp, Adams persists with the fake ‘mainstream’ focus of the time:

‘The marchers at the time did not agree on everything, but they shared a commitment to try to silence the drumbeat to war – or to at least to give the UN weapons inspectors more time to find the fabled weapons of mass destruction on which the rhetoric of Blair and President George W Bush depended (the previous day, Hans Blix, leader of those inspectors, had again informed the UN that no such weapons had yet been found).’

And again:

‘The Observer was split down the middle over whether to support the government in its desperate efforts to get a UN mandate for war…

‘Although the news section of that day’s Observer was solidly in awe of the peace march, elsewhere the leader column suggested that, “as the least worst option” it reluctantly went along “with a majority in Britain who would accept military action if backed by the UN security council”.’

It’s fine to mention that these were indeed ‘mainstream’ obsessions at the time, but not without pointing out that it was all nonsense. The whole focus on ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD) was fake, a crude deception. There were no ‘weapons of mass destruction’ left in Iraq by 2002 – as chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter was telling anyone who would listen in 2002 and 2003. But even if there had been, they were battlefield weapons, artillery shells, made with Western assistance by an Iraqi government that had no links whatsoever to the September 11 terrorists; a government that had shown no interest whatever in waging a terror campaign against the US or Britain – countries that had been using any manufactured excuse to torture the country into submission through genocidal sanctions for 13 years.

There was never any question of Iraq possessing nuclear weapons. But even if there had been battlefield biological and chemical weapons, and even if Iraq had had links with al-Qaeda, Britain and the US would have had no right to invade a country by which neither had been attacked or even threatened. And what would Saddam Hussein, clearly facing an all-out superpower oil grab, possibly gain by attacking or supporting attacks on the West? Any such attacks would have dramatically increased the risk to his own life for no practical gain.

But even if Britain and the US had been attacked by Iraq, they would not have had the right to devastate the country with a completely disproportionate invasion and occupation. Would we argue that Iraq had the right to invade, occupy and devastate the United States and Britain in response to ‘our’ air attacks and invasion?

We very much doubt that the Observer’s then editor, Roger Alton, was ‘solidly in awe’ of the peace march. In January 2003, as war loomed, Alton told his staff:

‘We’ve got to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Americans.’ (Nick Davis, Flat Earth News, Chatto & Windus, 2008, p.350)

In September 2006, the Evening Standard reported that Alton had been on ‘something of a lads’ holiday’ in the Alps. His companions included Jonathan Powell, ‘Tony Blair’s most trusted aide’, and staunch Blairite MP and propagandist Denis MacShane. (Gideon Spanier, ‘In the air,’ Evening Standard, 6 September 2006)

A few days after the march, leading Observer columnist Nick Cohen poured scorn on:

‘The satisfaction of an anti-war movement which persuaded one million people to tell Iraqis they must continue to live under a tyranny…’ (Cohen, ‘The Left’s unholy alliance with religious bigotry,’ The Observer, 23 February 2003)

What does Adams have in mind when he writes of ‘Knowing what we know now’? Of course, he means there were no WMD and the results of the war were catastrophic for Iraqis (although not for the US-UK; the war was not at all a ‘failure’, as is often claimed). But that is a tiny part of what we now know, and no thanks to the Observer and the Guardian. As we reported last year, any casual reader can Google ‘BP and Iraq’ and find:

‘In 2009, bp became the first international oil company to return to Iraq after a period of 35 ?years…

‘?Today, bp, PetroChina and BOC are working in partnership to develop Rumaila, the ?second-largest producing field in the world, estimated to have around 17 billion barrels of ?recoverable oil remaining.?’

Anyone can Google ‘Exxon and Iraq’ and find:

‘In January 2010, ExxonMobil Iraq Limited (EMIL), an affiliate of Exxon Mobil Corporation, signed an agreement with the South Oil Company of the Iraq Ministry of Oil to rehabilitate and redevelop the West Qurna I field in southern Iraq…

‘In October 2011, ExxonMobil signed six Production Sharing Contracts covering more than 848,000 acres in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.’

Last year, the BBC somehow broke with its long-standing tradition of ignoring US-UK crimes in Iraq to report: ‘BP in oil field where “cancer is like the flu.”’

The BBC commented: ‘Prof Shukri Al Hassan, a local environmental scientist, told us that cancer here is so rife it is “like the flu”.’

In other words, ‘Knowing what we know now’ really has to include the fact that the end result of the illegal war of aggression that cost the lives of more than one million Iraqis was that Britain’s BP and America’s Exxon got the oil. And Iraqis are once again paying the price.

But that is not controversial, or even news, for Tim Adams, or anyone else at the Observer and Guardian celebrating 2003’s ‘beautiful outpouring of rage’.

Knowing what we know now, a November 2001 report in the Guardian titled, ‘Among friends at “Blair Petroleum”’, does indeed take on a new and terrible significance:

‘Anji Hunter will be among New Labour friends when she starts her new job as director of communications at BP – nicknamed Blair Petroleum for its close links with the government.

‘The chief executive John Browne is close to the prime minister and a grateful Mr Blair added a peerage to the oilman’s knighthood after he helped end the fuel protests of summer last year.’ (Kevin Maguire, Guardian, 9 November 2001)

The report continued:

‘Lord Simon was chairman of BP until May 1997, when he resigned to become trade minister in Mr Blair’s first government, sparking a row when it emerged he still owned a considerable shareholding in the company… BP appears to have been embraced by the New Labour establishment and is thought to be the government’s favourite oil giant.’

Knowing what we know now it seems clear that Blair joined George W. Bush in exploiting the atrocity of September 11 to provide a fake justification for liberating Iraq of its oil for the benefit of ‘Blair Petroleum’. It reads like a horror story.

When we add the recent news that ‘BP’s annual profits more than doubled to $28bn (£23bn) in 2022 after a sharp increase in gas prices linked to the Ukraine war boosted its earnings’ at a time when the climate is collapsing, when we need to Just Stop Oil, it reads like dystopian science fiction.

Rather than discuss any of these real issues, Adams focused on:

‘The unprecedented diversity of the protesters… captured in the front-page Observer report from the march by my late, lamented colleague Euan Ferguson:

‘“There were nuns. Toddlers. Women barristers. The Eton George Orwell Society. Archaeologists Against War….”’

Ah, ‘diversity’, virtually the sole ‘mainstream’ ethical concern; universally favoured because it offers no challenge to the ‘two-party dictatorship… in thralldom to giant corporations’ identified by three-time US presidential candidate Ralph Nader (Interview with the Real News Network, 4 November 2008).

A second piece in the Guardian by Clea Skopeliti appeared three days after Adams’ article under the title, ‘“It changed my life”: protesters look back on 2003 Stop the War march’. Diversity was again the focus, remarkably even referencing the same quote:

‘It was a protest marked by its breadth, with Euan Ferguson writing in the Observer: “There were nuns. Toddlers. Women barristers. The Eton George Orwell Society. Archaeologists Against War …”’

Protest presented as a spectacle, a social event. The arguments that motivated the protestors – that the US was an imperial rogue state motivated by greed, that there should be ‘No blood for oil’, that an already crushed Iraqi society would be utterly devastated by yet another war – were not re-examined in the light of history. What actually happened to Iraq twenty years on? Doesn’t it matter? What is the state of its democracy, its human rights, its healthcare, its free press, its freedom? Serious politics, adult analysis, are replaced by vacuous, wistful reflections on the past. The issue of oil was unmentioned in either piece.

Letting the Germans Freeze: The US Terror Attack on Nord Stream

The cynical opportunism of the Observer’s supposed affection for the anti-war marches of 2003 is thrown into stark relief by the paper’s complete blanking of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh’s recent assertion that the US was responsible for the terrorist attack on the Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea last September.

The pipelines from Nord Stream 1, the first phase of the infrastructure, were already supplying cheap Russian gas to Germany and elsewhere in Europe. The US had long made clear its opposition to Nord Stream 2 going ahead. On 6 February 2022, more than two weeks before Russia’s invasion, US president Joe Biden said:

‘If Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the… border of Ukraine again, then there will be… no longer a Nord Stream 2. We, we will bring an end to it.’

Asked how this would be done, given the project is under German control, Biden said: ‘I promise you, we’ll be able to do it.’

In January 2022, Victoria Nuland, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, had stated: ‘I want to be clear with you today, if Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.’

In congressional testimony this January, Nuland actually gloated:

‘I think the administration is very gratified to know that Nord Stream 2 is now, as you like to say, a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea.’

On the Jimmy Dore Show, Aaron Maté shared an extraordinary video compilation of US officials insisting, before the bombing, that Nord Stream had to be ‘stopped’, ‘killed’, ‘shut down’, ‘cancelled’.

Hersh’s report, citing an unnamed source ‘with direct knowledge of the operational planning’ relates what happened. In June 2022, under cover of a naval exercise, US Navy divers planted explosive devices on three of the four Nord Stream pipelines. In September, these were then remotely detonated on Biden’s orders. This took place with the assistance of the Norwegian Secret Service and Navy, but without the awareness of Germany or other western allies.

If Hersh’s account is accurate, this was a massive US terrorist attack on one of its own allies (Germany), as well as being one of the world’s worst environmental disasters causing a huge release of global-warming methane gas. The lethal consequences of the attack for the people of Europe have been almost completely ignored. In November, The Economist examined the relationship between ‘Fuel prices and excessive deaths’:

‘Although heatwaves get more press, cold temperatures are usually deadlier than hot ones. Between December and February, 21% more Europeans die per week than from June to August.’

The report continued:

‘In the past, changes in energy prices have had a small effect on deaths. But this year’s cost increases are remarkably large… if past patterns persist, current electricity prices would drive deaths above the historical average even in the mildest winter.

‘Exact mortality totals still depend on other factors, particularly temperature. In a mild winter, the increase in deaths might be limited to 32,000 above the historical average (accounting for changes in population). A harsh winter could cost a total of 335,000 extra lives.’

The US attack will certainly have contributed to these tens or hundreds of thousands of excess deaths – appalling figures made uglier by the huge profits of the likes of BP and Shell. As we were writing this alert, the BBC reported:

‘British Gas owner Centrica has posted huge profits after energy prices soared last year.

‘Centrica’s full-year profits hit £3.3bn for 2022, more than triple the £948m it made the year before.

‘Energy firms have seen record earnings since oil and gas prices jumped following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.’

Hersh commented:

‘The point is that Biden has decided to let the Germans freeze this winter. The President of the United States would rather see Germany freeze than have Germany possibly stop supporting Ukraine, and that to me is a devastating thing for this White House…

‘The people involved in the operation saw that the President wanted to freeze Germany for his short-term political goals, and that horrified them.’

Burying Seymour Hersh

Writer and media analyst Alan MacLeod detailed how Hersh’s account of the Nord Stream attack has been buried out of sight by US corporate media:

‘A MintPress News study analyzed the 20 most influential publications in the United States, according to analytics company Similar Web, and found only four mentions of the report between them.

‘The entirety of the corporate media’s attention given to the story consisted of:

‘A 166-word mini report in Bloomberg;

‘One five-minute segment on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (Fox News);

‘One 600-word round up in The New York Post;

‘A shrill Business Insider attack article, whose headline labels Hersh a “discredited journalist” that has given a “gift to Putin”.

‘The 20 outlets studied are, in alphabetical order:

‘ABC News; Bloomberg News; Business Insider; BuzzFeed; CBS News; CNBC; CNN; Forbes; Fox News; The Huffington Post; MSNBC; NBC News; The New York Post; The New York Times; NPR; People Magazine; Politico; USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.’

Much the same is true of UK state-corporate media. In particular, BBC News, the Guardian and the Observer have simply ignored Hersh’s story, except for a passing mention emphasising White House denials in a Guardian live blog on 12 February. Curiously, despite writing in depth about Nord Stream last March, George Monbiot, the Guardian’s supposed dissident fig leaf, has not mentioned Hersh’s report, other than to retweet a thread that contained this comment:

‘…in short, the publicly available data does not corroborate Hersh’s reporting. I should have additional vessel tracking data soon, and if that shows otherwise I’ll update here’.

Recall that Hersh is a renowned reporter who exposed the US My Lai atrocity in Vietnam, Nixon-era CIA spying on left-wing dissidents, and the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq.

The Independent managed a grand total of 324 words under the politically correct headline: ‘White House denies journalist’s claims it blew up Russian gas pipeline’.

Hersh’s report was, the White House claimed, ‘utterly false and complete fiction’.

The Daily Mail devoted 600 words to the story. Tragicomically, by way of ‘balance’, the Mail included a James Bond-style graphic under the title: ‘How Putin’s Forces Might Have Sabotaged Nord Stream Pipelines’.

We also found a single mention in The Times, hidden behind its paywall.

Media Lens does not have the resources to scour the airwaves for possible mentions on radio and television.

A piece by Snopes, the ‘fact-checking website’, dismissed Hersh’s analysis – misspelling his name three times as ‘Hersch’ – claiming it relied on a single ‘omnipotent anonymous source.’ In fact, in an interview with Radio War Nerd, Hersh made clear that he had corroborated his account with other sources. The reality of what happened was, he said, ‘well-known’ in the pipeline industry: ‘Let me just say something to you: This isn’t a hard story to find.’

Jeffery Sachs – a world-renowned economist and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University – commented:

‘Even reporters on our papers that are involved tell me “of course” (the US did it), but it doesn’t show up in our media.’

It is also worth noting that in his 2018 book, Reporter – a Memoir, Hersh wrote:

‘I resolved early that I would never publish information from someone on the inside without verifying it elsewhere, even if a second source insisted I had to pretend he didn’t exist.’

None of this matters to the ‘free press’. And yet, the rational journalistic response to Hersh’s claims would be to follow them up – check them, challenge them, test them. As Craig Murray commented, the ‘mainstream’ treatment of Hersh is ‘a clear indicator of the disappearance of freedom from our so-called western democracies’. We have indeed entered a new and disturbing phase of extreme ‘mainstream’ censorship by omission.

Media Lens is a UK-based media watchdog group headed by David Edwards and David Cromwell. The most recent Media Lens book, Propaganda Blitz by David Edwards and David Cromwell, was published in 2018 by Pluto Press. Read other articles by Media Lens, or visit Media Lens's website.