The Guardian July 23, 2003


"Bush's Vietnam" by John Pilger

America's two "great victories" since September 11, 2001 are 
unravelling. In Afghanistan, the regime of Hamid Karzai has virtually no 
authority and no money, and would collapse without American guns. Al-Qaida 
has not been defeated, and the Taliban are re-emerging.

Regardless of showcase improvements, the situation of women and children 
remains desperate. The token woman in Karzai's cabinet, the courageous 
physician Sima Samar, has been forced out of government and is now in 
constant fear of her life, with an armed guard outside her office door and 
another at her gate. Murder, rape and child abuse are committed with 
impunity by the private armies of America's "friends", the warlords whom 
Washington has bribed with millions of dollars, cash in hand, to give the 
pretence of stability.by John Pilger

"We are in a combat zone the moment we leave this base", an American 
colonel told me at Bagram airbase, near Kabul. "We are shot at every day, 
several times a day." When I said that surely he had come to liberate and 
protect the people, he belly-laughed.

American troops are rarely seen in Afghanistan's towns. They escort US 
officials at high speed in armoured vans with blackened windows and 
military vehicles, mounted with machine-guns, in front and behind. Even the 
vast Bagram base was considered too insecure for the Defence Secretary, 
Donald Rumsfeld, during his recent, fleeting visit.

So nervous are the Americans that a few weeks ago they "accidentally" shot 
dead four government soldiers in the centre of Kabul, igniting the second 
major street protest against their presence in a week.

On the day I left Kabul, a car bomb exploded on the road to the airport, 
killing four German soldiers, members of the international security force 
Isaf. The Germans' bus was lifted into the air; human flesh lay on the 
roadside.

When British soldiers arrived to "seal off" the area, they were watched by 
a silent crowd, squinting into the heat and dust, across a divide as wide 
as that which separated British troops from Afghans in the 19th century, 
and the French from Algerians and Americans from Vietnamese. In Iraq, scene 
of the second "great victory", there are two open secrets.

The first is that the "terrorists" now besieging the American occupation 
force represent an armed resistance that is almost certainly supported by 
the majority of Iraqis who, contrary to pre-war propaganda, opposed their 
enforced "liberation" (see Jonathan Steele's investigation, 19 March 2003, 
www.guardian.co.uk).

The second secret is that there is emerging evidence of the true scale of 
the Anglo-American killing, pointing to the bloodbath Bush and Blair have 
always denied.

Comparisons with Vietnam have been made so often over the years that I 
hesitate to draw another. However, the similarities are striking: for 
example, the return of expressions such as "sucked into a quagmire". This 
suggests, once again, that the Americans are victims, not invaders: the 
approved Hollywood version when a rapacious adventure goes wrong.

Since Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled almost three months ago, more 
Americans have been killed than during the war. Ten have been killed and 25 
wounded in classic guerrilla attacks on roadblocks and checkpoints which 
may number as many as a dozen a day.

The Americans call the guerrillas "Saddam loyalists" and "Ba'athist 
fighters", in the same way they used to dismiss the Vietnamese as 
"communists". Recently, in Falluja, in the Sunni heartland of Iraq, it was 
clearly not the presence of Ba'athists or Saddamists, but the brutal 
behaviour of the occupiers, who fired point-blank at a crowd, that inspired 
the resistance.

The American tanks gunning down a family of shepherds is reminiscent of the 
gunning down of a shepherd, his family and sheep by "coalition" aircraft in 
a "no-fly zone" four years ago, whose aftermath I filmed and which evoked, 
for me, the murderous games American aircraft used to play in Vietnam, 
gunning down farmers in their fields, children on their buffaloes.

On 12 June, a large American force attacked a "terrorist base" north of 
Baghdad and left more than 100 dead, according to a US spokesman. The term 
"terrorist" is important, because it implies that the likes of al-Qaida are 
attacking the liberators, and so the connection between Iraq and September 
11 is made, which in pre-war propaganda was never made.

More than 400 prisoners were taken in this operation. The majority have 
reportedly joined thousands of Iraqis in a "holding facility" at Baghdad 
airport: a concentration camp along the lines of Bagram, from where people 
are shipped to Guantanamo Bay.

In Afghanistan, the Americans pick up taxi drivers and send them into 
oblivion, via Bagram. Like Pinochet's boys in Chile, they are making their 
perceived enemies "disappear".

"Search and destroy", the scorched-earth tactic from Vietnam, is back. In 
the arid south-eastern plains of Afghanistan, the village of Niazi Qala no 
longer stands. American airborne troops swept down before dawn on December 
30, 2001 and slaughtered, among others, a wedding party.

Villagers said that women and children ran towards a dried pond, seeking 
protection from the gunfire, and were shot as they ran. After two hours, 
the aircraft and the attackers left. According to a United Nations 
investigation, 52 people were killed, including 25 children.

"We identified it as a military target", says the Pentagon, echoing its 
initial response to the My Lai massacre 35 years ago.

The targeting of civilians has long been a journalistic taboo in the West. 
Accredited monsters did that, never "us".

The civilian death toll of the 1991 Gulf war was wildly underestimated. 
Almost a year later, a comprehensive study by the Medical Education Trust 
in London estimated that more than 200,000 Iraqis had died during and 
immediately after the war, as a direct or indirect consequence of attacks 
on civilian infrastructure. The report was all but ignored.

This month, Iraq Body Count, a group of American and British academics and 
researchers, estimated that up to 10,000 civilians may have been killed in 
Iraq, including 2356 civilians in the attack on Baghdad alone. And this is 
likely to be an extremely conservative figure.

In Afghanistan, there has been similar carnage. In May last year, Jonathan 
Steele extrapolated all the available field evidence of the human cost of 
the US bombing and concluded that as many as 20,000 Afghans may have lost 
their lives as an indirect consequence of the bombing, many of them drought 
victims denied relief.

This "hidden" effect is hardly new. A recent study at Columbia University 
in New York has found that the spraying of Agent Orange and other 
herbicides on Vietnam was up to four times as great as previously 
estimated. Agent Orange contained dioxin, one of the deadliest poisons 
known.

In what they first called Operation Hades, then changed to the friendlier 
Operation Ranch Hand, the Americans in Vietnam destroyed, in some 10,000 
"missions" to spray Agent Orange, almost half the forests of southern 
Vietnam, and countless human lives. It was the most insidious and perhaps 
the most devastating use of a chemical weapon of mass destruction ever.

Today, Vietnamese children continue to be born with a range of deformities, 
or they are stillborn, or the foetuses are aborted. The use of uranium-
tipped munitions evokes the catastrophe of Agent Orange.

In the first Gulf war in 1991, the Americans and British used 350 tonnes of 
depleted uranium. According to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, 
quoting an international study, 50 tonnes of DU, if inhaled or ingested, 
would cause 500,000 deaths. Most of the victims are civilians in southern 
Iraq. It is estimated that 2000 tonnes were used during the latest attack.

In a remarkable series of reports for the Christian Science Monitor, 
the investigative reporter Scott Peterson has described radiated bullets in 
the streets of Baghdad and radiation-contaminated tanks, where children 
play without warning.

Belatedly, a few signs in Arabic have appeared: "Danger  Get away from 
this area". At the same time, in Afghanistan, the Uranium Medical Research 
Centre, based in Canada, has made two field studies, with the results 
described as "shocking".

"Without exception", it reported, "at every bomb site investigated, people 
are ill. A significant portion of the civilian population presents symptoms 
consistent with internal contamination by uranium."

An official map distributed to non-government agencies in Iraq shows that 
the American and British military have plastered urban areas with cluster 
bombs, many of which will have failed to detonate on impact. These usually 
lie unnoticed until children pick them up, then they explode.

In the centre of Kabul, I found two ragged notices warning people that the 
rubble of their homes, and streets, contained unexploded cluster bombs 
"made in USA". Who reads them? Small children?

The day I watched children skipping through what might have been an urban 
minefield, I saw Tony Blair on CNN in the lobby of my hotel. He was in 
Iraq, in Basra, lifting a child into his arms, in a school that had been 
painted for his visit, and where lunch had been prepared in his honour, in 
a city where basic services such as education, food and water remain a 
shambles under the British occupation.

It was in Basra three years ago that I filmed hundreds of children ill and 
dying because they had been denied cancer treatment equipment and drugs 
under an embargo enforced with enthusiasm by Tony Blair. Now here he was  
shirt open, with that fixed grin, a man of the troops if not of the people 
 lifting a toddler into his arms for the cameras.

When I returned to London, I read After Lunch, by Harold Pinter, 
from a new collection of his called War (Faber & Faber).

And after noon the well-dressed creatures come
To sniff among the dead And have their lunch
And all the many well-dressed creatures pluck
The swollen avocados from the dust
And stir the minestrone with stray bones
And after lunch
They loll and lounge about
Decanting claret in convenient skulls.

John Pilger is a renowned journalist, war correspondent and documentary 
film-maker.

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