Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
A culture of lying
George W Bush lies almost every time he opens his mouth. He can't help it: he's a right-wing Christian-fundamentalist Republican. Lying is part of the culture in which he exists. And which he is trying to export to the rest of the world. Capitalism was still very much in its formative stage at the time of Oliver Cromwell, but even then Gerrard Winstanley had astutely characterised it as "the lying art of buying and selling". Today, in the most developed capitalist country of them all, the "lying art" is also at its most developed. Bush is but one liar amongst many at all levels of the US administration. And the US people are getting jack of it. They know they were lied to about the weapons of mass destruction that supposedly littered the Iraqi countryside. Many of them know — many more suspect — that they were lied to about the circumstances of the September 11 plane hijackings. In the past, US citizens were piously informed that it was not only their right to question their officials, it was their duty. But after September 11, those who question the veracity of official accounts are accused of being disloyal or "unpatriotic". But as the lies grow in number and magnitude, so does the questioning. And curiously, it is coming not only from the Left but from what are considered the most "patriotic" sectors of US society. The families of US soldiers serving in Iraq are openly accusing the Pentagon of lying about the number of US soldiers killed there. European and Middle Eastern media accuse US forces of also lying about the number of Iraqi civilians they have killed. Non-US media regularly report eyewitness accounts of US soldiers responding to any attack by indiscriminately shooting up everything — and everybody — in sight, whether young or old, male or female, armed or unarmed. Afterwards the US command defends the slaughter of civilians in the vicinity with the lying claim that they were armed or "appeared to be armed". On May 19, US forces attacked with all guns blazing (including bombs, rockets, planes, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, the lot) a sleeping wedding party in a little desert village near the Syrian border, Makr al-Deeb. US intelligence had apparently concluded that having wedding guests come from all around the local area including across the border in Syria, putting up a tent for the festivities, hiring a band and one of the best wedding singers in Iraq, was evidence that a "safe house" was being set up for "foreign fighters". Al-Arabiya television filmed the result: some 42 men, women and children horrifically slain. Witnesses identified the families involved in what had been a major wedding for the region, uniting two large families. Among the dead were 27 members of one of those families. Many of their guests died as well, as did the band of musicians and Hussein al-Ali, the wedding singer. The news footage included shots of two dead babies wrapped side by side in a blanket, the body of a little girl of six wrapped in a white shawl, and a headless child lying next to the body of his or her mother. Ignoring the women and children seen on the TV footage, Major- General James Mattis, commander of the US 1st Marine Division, claimed all the dead men were "foreign fighters". When reporters pressed Mattis about TV images of dead children he took the classic military out when a lie is uncovered: he did not have to justify the actions of his men, he announced. Brigadier Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director of Operations for the US military in Iraq, brazenly declared that the Iraqis (at the time of the US attack a sleeping wedding party) had fired first. "We took ground fire", said this loyal mouthpiece, "and we returned fire". He then said, disingenuously but with possibly unconscious accuracy: "But we operated within our rules of engagement". In Washington, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, contentedly repeated the lie, but with an odd little caveat: "We feel at this point very confident that this was a legitimate target, probably foreign fighters". Only "probably" foreign fighters, but still a "legitimate target"? Following usual US practice, General Myers tried to link the victims in Makr al-Deeb to terrorism. Although all the evidence says that the dead were guests at a regional wedding, he had the gall to suggest that the (mythical) "foreign fighters" might be linked to the killers of American hostage Nick Berg. Without a shred of evidence, he said with a straight face that they could be connected to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Islamist militant leader and ally of Osama bin Laden whom the US claims personally beheaded Berg. Although such a connection was "still to be determined", the worthy General said it was "not out of the question". And pigs can fly.
* * *Next week we'll look at some of the serious doubts that have been raised over the Berg "snuff video" that the US tried to use to divert attention from the prisoner torture photos.