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Gabriele Zamparini: Darkness and Light

Darkness and Light


When International Law And Science Are Silenced, The Only Outcome Is Darkness
By Gabriele Zamparini (*)

Introduction

There was a time when the arbitrary act of the powerful was the unquestioned rule and the abuse of the prince was called the ‘art of government’. The word ‘justice’ was used to describe the prince’s magnanimity or the reward for the suffering of this life, because… justice is not of this world.

Centuries of darkness and misery are now called the history of civilization.

During this history, women and men have constantly rebelled and struggled to bring about freedom, hope and justice in this life. Because of their appeal to Reason they have always paid the highest price. Humiliation, prison, torture and death have not succeeded in killing the human spirit, despite the ‘art of government’ developed to the sophisticated levels of today’s propaganda.

International law and science are among the most important achievements of this human struggle. Though both are ‘works in progress’ and too often conditioned by that ‘art of government’ they were originally born to limit, we need to strongly support them in these times of darkness.

International law

After WWII “THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war… and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights… of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained… AND FOR THESE ENDS to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest…” (1)

On 20 March 2003 the governments of the United States and United Kingdom broke their solemn pledge [as they had also done with 2001 bombing of Afghanistan and the 1999 NATO bombing campaign in the Balkans] with the invasion of the sovereign country of Iraq, “an illegal act that contravened the UN charter” according to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. (2) The darkness that they brought to the Iraqi people has already slaughtered hundreds of thousands of human lives and contaminated that land with nuclear and chemical wastes for thousands of years to come.

The crime perpetrated by the Bush and Blair’s alliance is “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes [Abu Ghraib, Falluja, Haditha, etc.] in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." (3)

The art of government has denied this basic truth to the people of the world (THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS) through that sophisticated propaganda apparatus that hypocritically calls itself “mainstream media”.

“If there is one thing that has come out clearly in the last few days, it is not that the corporate media supports the global corporate project; it IS the global corporate project” said Indian writer and activist Arundathi Roy at a World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) press conference, where she served as jury chairperson.

The WTI has been one of the most important achievements in the recent history of that human struggle to bring about freedom, hope and justice in this life. The guilty silence by the corporate media on the WTI and its international law implications is deafening and still going on without shame.

When I recently challenged BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson on the international law issues related to the invasion of Iraq and entreated him to report on the WTI, he wrote back: “I promise you I stand wholeheartedly on the principles that we should not forgive or forget acts which are against international law, and that we should ensure that international law is upheld. These things are matters of conscience. But I can't quite see why they oblige me to report news which is an entire year old.” (4)

Where was the BBC a year ago?

The British media watchdog Media Lens wrote:

“We also contacted the World Tribunal on Iraq [WTI] for their response. Communications coordinator Caroline Muscat told us WTI had invited the BBC World Service correspondent in Istanbul, Jonny Dymond, to attend the Tribunal's hearings. She helped to set up interviews and provide footage: "we did our best to meet his needs".

Dymond confirmed to us that he attended the opening press conference, and was present on the first day of the 5-day proceedings (email from Jonny Dymond to Media Lens, July 14, 2005). This resulted in a news story on the BBC World Service lasting 24 seconds, and a longer report of about 90 seconds in length. These reports failed to mention the Tribunal's finding that the BBC, and other named, mainstream media, bears "special responsibility for promoting the lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction". (5)

Director BBC News Helen Boaden’s comments are revealing:

“Thank you for your email criticising the BBC for lack of coverage of the World Tribunal on Iraq. We have received numerous complaints on this subject in different parts of the BBC and - after careful consideration of the matter - the following is the BBC response, which I am sending on behalf of the BBC. The subjects under discussion at the Istanbul meeting are indeed important and many of the topics are matters which the BBC has examined persistently and regularly across our outlets. There are many conferences which the BBC does not cover and - given finite resources - we take the view that what is important is that a full range of issues is aired. (…)

"Turning to the agenda of the World Tribunal on Iraq, the BBC has examined events in Iraq from many angles, including the legal framework; the role of the UN; international relations; the conduct of coalition forces and the human rights violations at Abu Graib; the controversy over Guantanamo Bay. But unlike the WTI which takes the war in Iraq as unjust as its premise, the BBC must be open-minded and impartial in its approach.” (Ibidem)

When the WTI’s Jury of Conscience from 10 different countries was hearing the testimonies of 54 members of the Panel of Advocates who came from across the world, including Iraq, the United States and the United Kingdom (6) the BBC together with all the other state-corporate media were working very hard for that sophisticated propaganda apparatus so that people could be brainwashed and neutralized with an endless repetition of lies and nonsense: WMD, War on Terror, Axis of Evil, Exporting Democracy & Human Rights Enterprise, Iraqi Freedom, Civilized World and the many al-Zarqawi type bogeymen. The mechanism is not different from selling cars, toothpaste, toilet paper or a US’ president; it’s called the Public Relations industry and it’s used by the ‘art of government’ to control our will and manufacture that fake consent in their travesty of democracy.

Science

Four hundred years ago the great Galileo was humiliated and forced to repudiate his science by the power of the time, the Catholic Church. Once again, the sin was his appeal to Reason. Once again, the prince felt threatened and showed its ferocious face.

Four hundreds years later science and Reason are still feared by the powers that be.

On 29 October 2004, the highly respected British medical journal The Lancet published a study conducted by some of the most important scientists in the field from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Columbia University School of Nursing and Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad.

‘Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey’ reads:

Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths. (Interpretation)

Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children. (Findings) (7)

The same study reads:

"The researchers found that the majority of deaths were attributed to violence, which were primarily the result of military actions by Coalition forces. Most of those killed by Coalition forces were women and children... Eighty-four percent of the [violent] deaths were reported to be caused by the actions of Coalition forces and 95 percent of those deaths were due to air strikes and artillery." (8)

The lead author of the study, Les Roberts, wrote this past February:

“When I presented these results to about thirty Pentagon employees last fall, one came up to me afterwards and said, "We have dropped about 50,000 bombs, mostly on insurgents hiding behind civilians. What the [expletive] did you think was going to happen?" Our survey team's 100,000 death estimate for the first 18 months after the U.S. led-invasion equates to about 101 coalition-attributed violent deaths per day.” (9)

As in the Galileo’s case four centuries earlier, the prince felt threatened and showed its ferocious face. Immediately a campaign from Washington and London started to discredit the Lancet study and its authors. Just to focus on the most “liberal” British newspaper, the Independent:

“However, this number is only the central point of a range that extends from 8,000 to 194,000. This huge disparity was mocked ignorantly by one American commentator as ‘not an estimate, it's a dartboard‘. It was also defended, equally ignorantly, by the editor of The Lancet, who said: ‘It's highly probable the figure is 98,000. Anything more or less is much less probable.’ Both wrong. What the figures say is that there is a 95 per cent chance that the true figure lies between 8,000 and 194,000... It is statistically respectable, which is why The Lancet article passed its peer reviews, but it produces estimates hedged about with great uncertainty.

And there are good reasons for thinking that the true figure is towards the lower end of The Lancet's range.” (‘We should be counting the dead in Iraq, but let’s not get the figures out of proportion like this,’ John Rentoul , The Independent on Sunday, December 10, 2004)

“The Iraqi Body Count figure is probably much too low, because US military tactics ensure high civilian losses. American firepower, designed to combat the Soviet army, cannot be used in built-up areas without killing or injuring many civilians. Nevertheless a study published in The Lancet, estimating that 100,000 civilians had died in Iraq, appears to be too high.” (‘Terrified US soldiers are still killing civilians with impunity,’ Patrick Cockburn, The Independent on Sunday, April 24, 2005)

[the Lancet findings has been reached] “by extrapolating from a small sample... While never completely discredited, those figures were widely doubted”. (‘The true measure of the US and British failure,’ Leader, The Independent, July 20, 2005)

“even Iraq Body Count, an anti-war campaign, puts the total attributable to coalition forces at under 10,000, rather than the figure with an extra zero that is the common misconception of anti-war propaganda”. (‘Islam, blood and grievance,' John Rentoul, The Independent, July 24, 2005)

And this even though the Financial Times, on November 19, 2004 had already written:

“This survey technique has been criticised as flawed, but the sampling method has been used by the same team in Darfur in Sudan and in the eastern Congo and produced credible results. An official at the World Health Organisation said the Iraq study ‘is very much in the league that the other studies are in ... You can't rubbish (the team) by saying they are incompetent‘”. (Stephen Fidler, 'Lies, damned lies and statistics,' Financial Times, November 19, 2004)

Completely ignored by the state-corporate media, there is also an excellent article published by the Chronicle for Higher Education on January 27, 2005. This article reads:

"Les [Roberts] has used, and consistently uses, the best possible methodology," says Bradley A. Woodruff, a medical epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indeed, the United Nations and the State Department have cited mortality numbers compiled by Mr. Roberts on previous conflicts as fact -- and have acted on those results.(…) Mr. Roberts has studied mortality caused by war since 1992, having done surveys in locations including Bosnia, Congo, and Rwanda. His three surveys in Congo for the International Rescue Committee, a nongovernmental humanitarian organization, in which he used methods akin to those of his Iraq study, received a great deal of attention. "Tony Blair and Colin Powell have quoted those results time and time again without any question as to the precision or validity," he says. (10)

When challenged about the Lancet study, the BBC wrote:

“The figures it details are now around one year old where as [‘whereas’, presumably] those produced by Iraq Body Count are continually updated.” [and] “We do not usually use the Lancet's figure in standard news stories because it is so far out of line with other studies on the same issue. There are also some questions over the validity of the Lancet study in the case of measuring casualties in Iraq. The technique of sampling and extrapolating from samples has been criticised because the pattern of violence in Iraq has been so uneven. In this particular news story, the Iraq Body Count figure is used because it is the most recent study on the issue.” (11)

Too old too mention? Does this sound familiar?

Again Media Lens points out in its alert:

A perfect example of this masking effect was provided by the Independent’s Andy McSmith on March 4. McSmith reported that the war in Iraq “has cost the lives of 103 British troops, 2,300 US soldiers, and up to 30,000 Iraqis”. (McSmith, ‘Blair: “God will be my judge on Iraq“’, The Independent, March 4, 2006; http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article349125.ece)

McSmith was challenged by activist Gabriele Zamparini of The Cat’s Dream (http://thecatsdream.com). Zamparini asked:

“What’s the source of that number, ‘up to 30,000 Iraqis‘? Were you referring to Mr Bush’s ‘30,000, more or less‘ ? Were you referring to the numbers provided by Iraq Body Count?” (Forwarded to Media Lens, March 6, 2006)

McSmith responded:

“Dear Gabriele

“The source of the 30,000 figure was Iraq Body Count. I am aware of the criticism that it is a 'passive' source of information, in that it does not send canvassers out to do random sampling, but it is respected and reliable.
There has been a lot written about the Lancet study, which was professionally conducted but under difficult conditions, but which necessarily relied on a small sample with a wide margin or error. They estimated 8,000-194,000 'excess deaths', and put the probable total at 98,000. This included increases in infant mortality, traffic accidents etc, with 60% directly attributable to the violence. It is the small sample and very wide margin of error that makes people nervous about the Lancet figure.

Thank you for the email

Andy McSmith” (Forwarded to Media Lens, March 6, 2006) (12)

The British media watchdog Media Lens (13) drew BBC and Iraq Body Count’s ire upon them for the unforgivable sin of appealling to Reason and asking questions.

IBC’s co-founder and Oxford Research Group’s Executive Director John Sloboda gave an interview to “respectable media” [his words] the BBC, where he says:

“Their behaviour is far worse than most of our right-wing or pro-war critics, who, on the whole, have behaved rather more honourably. These people, I trust them less than just about anyone else in the world, and they would have to do 50 to 100 times more in order to regain my trust. (…) They like the sense of being a beleaguered minority. What's most chilling is if you look at people's allegiance to much more dangerous causes than either of our critics are adopting. This is also the mindset that draws angry young men towards terrorism. And it's ultimately self-destructive.” (14)

Sloboda’s words must have impressed many honest people, both in the corporate media and in the anti-war movement, if the Lancet study continues to be buried together with those hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians our governments went to ‘liberate’ - bringing with them a small army of “embedded journalists”.

Despite personal honesty, good will and sacrifice of most of these journalists, they can’t see, can’t report and can’t do their job properly, if we have to believe BBC’s Jim Muir from Baghdad: “Of course we cannot operate freely - there is a war going on, in which we are at definite risk from both sides”. (15) Remember? The truth is the first casualty of war!

This “embedded condition” together with other kind of pressures and the institutional role of the state-corporate media are all parts of that propaganda apparatus used by the prince in its “art of government”.

Dahr Jamail, a seriously independent journalist recently wrote:

On November 19, 2005, the day of the Haditha Massacre, al-Jazeera had long since been banned from operating in Iraq. The station forced to conduct its war reporting from a desk in Doha, Qatar, was doing so via telephone. Two Iraqis worked diligently to cover the US occupation of Iraq through a loose network of contacts within Iraq. Defying the US-imposed extreme challenges, al-Jazeera, by dint of its responsible reporting, had the entire Haditha scoop as soon as it occurred, which they shared with Western and other media outlets, while the latter were content to participate in delaying the story nearly four months by regurgitating unverified military releases.

Two days after the massacre, DahrJamailiraq.com was the only free place on the Internet that carried al-Jazeera's report translated into English (it could be viewed at MidEastWire.com for a fee).

The anchorperson for al-Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, interviewed journalist Walid Khalid in Baghdad. Khalid's report, translated by MidEastWire.com, was as follows:

Yesterday evening, an explosive charge went off under a US Marines vehicle in the al-Subhani area, destroying it completely. Half an hour later, the US reaction was violent. US aircraft bombarded four houses near the scene of the incident, causing the immediate death of five Iraqis. Afterward, the US troops stormed three adjacent houses where three families were living near the scene of the explosion. Medical sources and eyewitnesses close to these families affirmed that the US troops, along with the Iraqi Army, executed 21 persons; that is, three families, including nine children and boys, seven women, and three elderly people. (...)

It wasn't until four months after the event that the Western corporate media started to straighten out the story. On March 19, 2006, it was Time Magazine that "broke" the Haditha story in a piece titled "Collateral Damage or Civilian Massacre in Haditha." The primary sources for this piece were a video shot by an Iraqi journalism student produced the day after the massacre and interviews conducted with witnesses. Another glaring evidence of how a few simple interviews with Iraqis and some readily available photographs and video can drastically correct the glaring errors in the Western media's representations of the occupation. (…)

There are countless other stories which the US corporate media has deliberately delayed from their reportage and which may never reach the wide US audience that they deserve. It is necessary to ask, when will the corporate media report on stories such as the following: (...) (16)

Why is it important to know? asked Les Roberts in his February 2006 article “Do Iraqi Civilian Casualties Matter?” :

The casualty count is significant for many reasons. There are, of course, moral considerations. Is the way we wage war now indiscriminate with regard to non-combatants? Is the rhetoric about "precision" in our airborne weaponry masking a darker reality of unnecessary carnage on the ground? Avoidable killing of non-combatants is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, regardless of the actions of the insurgency. And the possibility that the Coalition forces could be responsible for as many as 200,000 Iraqi civilian deaths or more would likely alter the political mood in the United States with respect to the legitimacy of "Operation Iraqi Freedom." (see note 9)

In one of my e-mails to BBC’s John Simpson, there is this paragraph:

According to Les Roberts (Center for International Emergency Disaster and Refugee Studies at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, one of the world’s top epidemiologists and lead author of the Lancet report) there might be as many as 300,000 Iraqi civilian deaths (Do Iraqi Civilian Casualties Matter?, By Les Roberts, AlterNet, February 8, 2006)

Even though I had not mentioned Iraq Body Count at all in my e-mail to BBC’s Simpson, Iraq Body Count's Joshua Dougherty posted this message on Media Lens’ message board:

Not to mention too Bob [another messageboard poster], that the specific claim he keeps circulating (or at least the speculation from which it was derived, the "factor of five or ten" nonsense) has already been retracted by Roberts (though several other errors remain in the analysis uncorrected).

Gabriele wouldn't know this either, because he's sticking with "science" - ie: whatever inaccurate or untested speculations might be made by selectively chosen "experts" who might utter things Gabriele wants to hear. (17)

I sent the first paragraph of IBC’s Dougherty’s comment to Les Roberts, asking him if it was true that he had “retracted” what Dougherty calls “nonsense”. This is Les Roberts’ reply:

I wrote a chapter in a HPN [Humanitarian Practice Network] paper and in a table, I said the IBC count was 17 deaths per day over the period 3/1/03 – 2/1/05. That was wrong. The count was 17 during 2003 but went up later and I had the wrong dates. That was unfortunate. As reported at that time, the IBC number was actually around 26 or 27 per day over the first 18 months of occupation that spanned the period of the Lancet study (the reason I cannot pin it down is because as IBC learns of past deaths, it seems that they go back and revise the numbers which is wonderful in terms of science, but diminishes the apparent contrast that occurred at that time). The NGO Coordinating Committee for Iraq recorded 50 deaths per day through their NGO network over the same time period and our study estimated that there were 101 deaths per day when we excluded Anbar Province. Thus, this does not change the basic conclusion that IBC was estimating a rate far lower than the ground-based evaluations.

Thus, the statement below ["the specific claim he keeps circulating (or at least the speculation from which it was derived, the "factor of five or ten" nonsense) has already been retracted by Roberts (though several other errors remain in the analysis uncorrected)."] is both in spirit and in fact incorrect.

IBC is addressing mortality studies: a well-founded field in the medical sciences. Iraq Body Count’s study has not been subject to review or verification by knowledgeable scientific researchers nor published by any scientific journal. Why not?

The British and US media (let alone those responsible for that carnage) consistently favour IBC's figures instead of a scientific reviewed study. Why?

If we do not want to return to that time when the arbitrary act of the powerful was the unquestioned rule and the abuse of the prince was called the ‘art of government’ we must uphold international law and defend the role of science.

***

Post Scriptum: in these same minutes the Guardian Unlimited has published the last fatigues by Observer’s foreign affairs editor, Peter Beaumont:

- a “review” (sic!) of Noam Chomsky’s last book “Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy”, presented to the Guardian-Observer’s readers as a “A noxious form of argument: Noam Chomsky has allowed bile and rhetoric to replace intellectual rigour in his latest diatribe against the present United States administration, says Peter Beaumont” (18)

- a pre-emptive strike, “Microscope on Medialens: After taking Noam Chomsky to task over his new book, Failed States, our foreign affairs editor, Peter Beaumont, addresses his predicted critics before they organise a campaign against him”. (19)

While it’s highly instructive to notice this new development of the state-corporate propaganda apparatus according to the new standards set by the notorious ‘War on Terror’ and fought by the “liberal” media, it’s interesting to pay attention to “Austrian right-wing populist Joerg Haider [who] called President Bush a war criminal on Saturday, days before Austria's government hosts Bush and European leaders in Vienna. (…) ‘He is a war criminal. He brought about the war against Iraq deliberately, with lies and falsehoods (…) The Iraqi population is suffering terribly. Bush took the risk of an enormous number of victims’ said Haider.” (20)

One can only hope that one day we all fully understand the pernicious effects of the “liberal media” on our minds, our will, our lives and our world. Considering the state of the world today, we don’t have much time left.

FOOTNOTES

1) Charter of the United Nations – Preamble

2) “Iraq war illegal, says Annan”, BBC News website, Thursday, 16 September, 2004

3) Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of German Major War Criminals, Nuremberg, Germany 1946

4) TAKE ACTION: BBC and World Tribunal on Iraq, Gabriele Zamparini, The Cat’s Blog, June 15, 2006

5) BIASED, BLINKERED, CULPABLE. John Pilger, Hans von Sponeck, Dahr Jamail and Others Respond to BBC Statement Regarding The World Tribunal on Iraq, Media Lens, July 20, 2005

6) WTI PRESS RELEASE about JURY STATEMENT, Istanbul, 27 June, 2005

7) Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey, The Lancet, Published online October 29,2004

8) 'Iraqi Civilian Deaths Increase Dramatically After Invasion', October 28, 2004, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

9) Do Iraqi Civilian Casualties Matter?, By Les Roberts, AlterNet, February 8, 2006

10) Researchers Who Rushed Into Print a Study of Iraqi Civilian Deaths Now Wonder Why It Was Ignored, by LILA GUTERMAN, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 27, 2005

11) BBC News: Lancet Report too old to mention!!!, Gabriele Zamparini, The Cat’s Blog, October 28, 2005

12) IRAQ BODY COUNT REFUSES TO RESPOND, Media Lens, March 14, 2006

13) http://www.medialens.org/

14) Interview transcript - John Sloboda, BBC NewsNight, 28 April 2006

15) email from BBC (occupied) Iraq, Gabriele Zamparini, The Cat’s Blog, June 12, 2006

16) Propaganda and Haditha, By Dahr Jamail and Jeff Pflueger, t r u t h o u t, Friday 09 June 2006

17) Re: "Nonsense", Posted by joshd on June 14, 2006, 10:06 pm, User logged in as: joshd

18) A noxious form of argument, by Peter Beaumont, the Observer-Guardian Unlimited, June 18, 2006

19) Microscope on Medialens, by Peter Beaumont, the Observer-Guardian Unlimited, June 18, 2006

20) Austria's Haider says Bush is a war criminal, Reuters, Jun 17, 2006

*************

(*) Gabriele Zamparini is an independent filmmaker, writer and journalist living in London. He's the producer and director of the documentaries XXI CENTURY and The Peace! DVD and author of American Voices of Dissent (Paradigm Publishers). He can be reached at info@thecatsdream.com - Find out more about him and his work at http://TheCatsDream.com

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