Tag: Downing Street memo

Are the ‘liberal’ media betraying the people of the middle east?

By Daniel Margrain

 

Fake images about Aleppo circulate on social media

In this article I will argue that the corporate mainstream media uncritically promulgate regime change narratives in the middle east that coincide with the interests of Western imperial power whose latest goal is the removal of president Bashar- al-Assad from power. As with Iraq, this goal preceded the stated justifications which were retrofitted to an act of aggression.

In 2011, Time reporter, Rania Abouzeid, announced the March 4 and 5, “Day of Rage” against the Syrian president, which was intended as an invocation to the masses in Syria to rise up against their “brutal dictator”. However,  the planned action ended up a complete failure.

At this stage, the empire pinned its hopes on the fact that the culmination of eight years of crippling U.S-led economic sanctions would be sufficient enough a catalyst for mass protests against the Assad government. However, the said sanctions had the reverse affect. On the March 29, 2011, tens of thousands of Syrians gathered at Central Bank Square in Damascus in support of their president.

Nevertheless, the pro-government rally was inaccurately portrayed in the Western media as an anti-government demonstration. The Guardian, for instance, reported the rally, not as a celebration, but as a “military crackdown [by the state] against civilians.”

A year later, on March 27, 2012, president Assad accepted in good faith the six-point Annan peace plan which was ostensibly intended to secure a diplomatic solution to end the growing violence in the country that escalated on March 17, 2011 in the Syrian-Jordanian town of Daraa.

The mainstream media collectively failed in their duty to report the fact the imperial powers reneged on their obligations. To my knowledge, not a single prominent journalist brought to the public’s attention that the U.S and its allies broke their “crystal-cut commitment” to stop aiding rebel fighters which was an integral part of the agreement between the respective parties.

The jihadists continued to rain shells down on the cities of Hama and Homs despite Syria’s commitment that it would abide by the terms of the ceasefire on the condition that the West stop arming the rebels.

That the Western imperial powers have shown no intention of reaching a genuine peaceful outcome to the regional mess they instigated, has never been the preferred media narrative. In Iraq, for example, the evidence that NATO did everything they could to obstruct a peaceful resolution in the country is overwhelming but, to my knowledge, has not been reported as such.

The same can be said of Libya. According to the text of UNSCR 1973, the aim was to facilitate dialogue between the various factions in the country. But this was rendered absurd by the subsequent rejection by the West of proposals put forward by the African Union.

So why wasn’t this reported?

A rare voice of dissent was Seumas Milne who observed:

“If stopping the killing had been the real aim, NATO states would have backed a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement, rather than repeatedly vetoing both.”

This is not a theoretical point. NATO flatly rejected all ceasefire and peace proposals in Libya and demanded that Gaddafi “step down” in much the same way they demanded it of Assad in Syria. The motives of the imperial powers and their proxies in the middle east are characterized as benign. But this is an illusion.

The fomenting of war and chaos in Iraq and Libya by the U.S and its allies, from which spawned al-Qaida and ISIS, are the same forces that are tearing Syria and, at the time of writing, Iran apart. Recent reports of widespread protests throughout the latter are the consequence of U.S economic sanctions of the kind used against Iraq and Syria. As journalist Nafeez Ahmed reported, the said protests were fomented by the U.S State Department.

Iran is being punished for fighting Western-backed jihadists and standing in the way of US-Israeli hegemony in the region. But it’s unlikely the public would be able to reach this conclusion by reading the so-called progressive liberal press.

The BBC Panorama documentary, Saving Syria’s Children, Channel 4 News, Up Close With the Rebels and The Caesar Torture Photos represent far more overt attempts at disorientating the public. The former, in particular, is arguably the greatest single piece of state-sanctioned propaganda to have been produced anywhere in the world.

By repeating the propaganda of Western governments, the media have consistently acted as stenographers. Examples include the Telegraph’s reaction to the Houla massacre of May 25, 2012 which cast Syria into the ‘civil war’ of the Wests making, and the widespread misrepresentation of the UN report into the Ghouta chemical attack of August 21, 2013.

One day after the attack, a Guardian editorial claimed there was not “much doubt” who was to blame for the incident, as it simultaneously assailed its readers with commentary on the West’s “responsibility to protect”.

Journalist Jonathan Freedland’s reaction in the Guardian to the alleged chemical attack on April 4, 2017 in the Syrian town of Khan Seikhoun, was a virtual carbon copy of the papers reaction to Ghouta almost four years previously.

Freedland wrote a day after the incident:

“We almost certainly know who did it. Every sign points to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.”

What these ‘signs’ are were not specified in the article.

Freedland’s rush to judgement, was similarly adopted by George Monbiot. On Twitter (April 7, 2017) the writer claimed:

“We can be 99% sure the chemical weapons attack came from Syrian govt.”

Three days later, media analysts Media Lens challenged Monbiot by citing the views of two former UN weapons inspectors, both of whom contradicted Monbiot’s assertion. “What do you know that Hans Blix and Scott Ritter don’t know?”, inquired the analysts. Monbiot failed to reply.

Conclusion

Corporate mainstream journalism is predicated on sustaining the illusion that ‘progressive’ writers fundamentally challenge the status quo. The reality is, if journalists in highly influential positions really posed a threat to established power, they wouldn’t be in the positions they are in.

As Upton Sinclair famously remarked:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Thus, highly paid corporate journalists are akin to gatekeepers. Their role is to manipulate public opinion in the service of power rather than to fundamentally challenge it.

One of the key signs of a healthy democracy is the extent to which both the state and corporate media encourage a genuine diversity of opinions and the conditions for alternative narratives to flourish. On both counts, the mainstream corporate media have failed not only the Syrian’s but the people of Iraq, Libya and Iran.

The inability of corporate journalists to report truthfully, is indicative of a structural and systematic media bias. Its highly concentrated nature has resulted in a sustained narrative of misinformation, deceptions and outright lies.

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Blair damned. But did the Chilcot report go far enough?

By Daniel Margrain

Having mounted sustained attacks on Jeremy Corbyn since he became the Labour leader, the Blairite factions within the right of the party stepped-up their campaign of vilification and hostility in the wake of the much anticipated release of the Chilcot report in what they hoped would be one last concerted push to depose him. With Corbyn remaining defiant and showing no indication that he plans to step-down, the strategy has clearly been a monumental failure. With grass-roots membership of the party set to increase to an estimated 600,000, Corbyn currently heads the biggest movement of the left in Europe.

The Chilcot report was utterly damning of Blair and, by extension, was also critical of the plotters opposing Corbyn who either abstained or voted in favour of the Iraq war. However, the report fell woefully short of offering any justice for the families of British soldiers who lost loved ones or for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who were killed. For many, it wasn’t necessary for Chilcot to have taken seven years to oversee a report comprising 2.6 million words at a cost of £10m, in order for the public to grasp the fact that the war amounted to what the Nuremberg Tribunal defined as the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Under the UN Charter, two conditions must be met before a war can legally be waged. The parties to a dispute must first “seek a solution by negotiation” (Article 33). They can take up arms without an explicit mandate from the UN Security Council only “if an armed attack occurs against [them]” (Article 51). Neither of these conditions applied to the US and UK. Both governments rejected Iraq’s attempts to negotiate. At one point, the US State Department even announced that it would “go into thwart mode” to prevent the Iraqis from resuming talks on weapons inspection.

Iraq had launched no armed attack against either nation. We also know that the UK government was aware that the war it intended to launch was illegal. In March 2002, the Cabinet Office explained that a legal justification for invasion would be needed: “Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.” In July 2002, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, told the Prime Minister that there were only “three possible legal bases” for launching a war: “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [Security Council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case.”

Bush and Blair later failed to obtain Security Council authorisation. A series of leaked documents shows that the Bush and Blair governments knew they did not possess legal justification. Chilcot repeated the lie outlined in the Butler Inquiry that the intelligence was not knowingly fixed. The contents of the Downing Street memo, puts that lie to rest. The memo, which outlines a record of a meeting in July 2002, reveals that Sir Richard Dearlove, director of the UK’s foreign intelligence service MI6, told Blair that in Washington:

“Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

The Downing Street memo reveals that Blair knew that the decision to attack Iraq had already been made; that it preceded the justification, which was being retrofitted to an act of aggression; that the only legal reasons for an attack didn’t apply. The legal status of Bush’s decision had already been explained to Blair. In March 2002, as another leaked memo shows, the UK foreign secretary, Jack Straw, had reminded him of the conditions required to launch a legal war:

“i) There must be an armed attack upon a State or such an attack must be imminent;
ii) The use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable;
iii) The acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack.”

Straw explained that the development or possession of weapons of mass destruction “does not in itself amount to an armed attack; what would be needed would be clear evidence of an imminent attack.” A third memo, from the Cabinet Office, explained that:

“there is no greater threat now than in recent years that Saddam will use WMD … A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.”

Apologists for Blair often claim that war was justified by recourse to UN resolution 1441. But 1441 did not authorise the use of force since:

“there is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12.”

In January 2003, the attorney-general reminded Blair that “resolution 1441 does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the security council” Such a determination was never forthcoming. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reaffirmed that the Iraq War was illegal having breached the United Nations Charter. The world’s foremost experts in the field of international law concur that “…the overwhelming jurisprudential consensus is that the Anglo-American invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq constitute three phases of one illegal war of aggression.”

As well as their being no legal justification for war, it’s also worth pointing out that the invasion was undertaken in the knowledge that it would cause terrorism – a point amplified by Craig Murray:

“The intelligence advice in advance of the invasion he received was unequivocal that it would increase the threat to the UK, and it directly caused the attacks of 7/7.”

Nevertheless, this determination was followed by a benevolent course of action. As Chilcot made clear, the process for coming to the conclusion that Saddam had in his possession WMD as the basis for Blair’s decision to go to war, was one in which his Cabinet was not consulted. Chilcot also revealed that flawed intelligence assessments were made with certainty without any acknowledgement of the limitations of the said intelligence. Third, that the UK undermined the authority of the UN Security Council, and fourth, that Blair failed the Cabinet about Lord Goldsmith’s rather perilous journey by saying the war was actually legal having previously said it was illegal having mulled over it for over a year.

However, even though Chilcot can be applauded for the fact that it did something that most other societies in the world didn’t do, ultimately the report can be defined by the fact that it fudged the legal question. Chilcot didn’t explicitly say that the war was illegal. As such, Blair in his post-Chilcot speech was still able to dishonestly depict the invasion as an effort to prevent a 9/11 on British soil in the knowledge that the real culprits of 9-11 were the Saudi elite who finance him.

In the run up to the report being published in which various worthies were wheeled out, Chilcot said“the circumstances in which a legal basis for action was decided were not satisfactory.” In other words, the establishment, which Chilcot and his team represent, hid behind processes as opposed to stating loudly and clearly that the British government at that point was hell-bent on going to war with Iraq irrespective of what the evidence said about WMD or anything else.

It’s quite astonishing that the comments made by an authoritative figure such as General Wesley Clark who tells how the destabilization of the Middle East was planned as far back as 1991, was not mentioned by Chilcot nor has been examined and debated in the mainstream media. Perhaps just as pertinently, both Chilcot and the media ignored the claim made by Scott Ritter who ran intelligence operations for the United Nations from 1991 to 1998 as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, that by the time bombing began, Iraq had been “fundamentally disarmed”.

In the post-Chilcot context, it’s clear that no lessons from the guardians of power in the media have been learned, despite claims to the contrary. This can be seen, for example, in the reluctance of the media to allow the expression of dissenting voices that extend beyond the restrictive parameters of debate the media create. In highlighting the inherent bias, Craig Murray said:

“The broadcast media seem to think the Chilcot report is an occasion to give unlimited airtime to Blair and Alastair Campbell. Scores of supporters and instigators of the war have been interviewed. By contrast, almost no airtime has been given to those who campaigned against the war.”

Similarly, Stop the War’s Lindsey German pointed to the lack of balance on the BBCs ‘Today’ programme. For the most part, the guardians of power are only too eager to fall into line by acting as establishment echo-chambers rather than challenging the premises upon which various stated government positions and claims are based.