12 July 2003
A few days ago, the American forces in Baghdad drove 17 truckloads of rubble and dirt up to the secret military area of Baghdad airport to air-freight to the United States. No journalists reported on this macabre operation, even if they knew about it. For the muck came from the site of an atrocity committed by the US Air Force at the end of its bombardment of Iraq.
The Americans believed Saddam Hussein was hiding in a suburb called Mansour and so, despite knowing that the area was packed with civilians - the operation would not be "risk-free", as one of the US spokesmen later claimed, the nearest he acknowledged that it was a gross breach of the Geneva conventions - they dropped "bunker-buster" bombs on the densely packed houses of Mansour. They killed 16 civilians, including children. But where was Saddam? It was a sign of their desperation that almost two months after they occupied Baghdad, the Americans suddenly began scrabbling through the Mansour debris. Back in the United States, scientists would be tasked to hunt for evidence of Saddam's DNA in the dirt.
I'm not sure whether precedents allow others to commit war crimes in the future - or whether a repeat performance allows others to justify past precedents. But does Mansour not remind you of Ariel Sharon's little operation in Gaza a few months ago, when he ordered an Israeli pilot to drop a massive bomb on a crowded Gaza slum, demolishing a building, killing a Hamas official and - by the strange and beautiful symmetry of such atrocities - massacring 16 Palestinian civilians, including many children? We condemned Sharon's slaughter of the innocent, which he called "a great success". But how can we do so now, when we are silent about our own murders in Mansour?
Want to criticise the Israeli army for brutally shooting down stone-throwers in the West Bank and Gaza? Well, we'd better be careful now that the US army does the same in Falujah.
Care to demand an end to the torture of Palestinian prisoners at the notorious Russian Compound interrogation centre in Jerusalem? Not much point any more. With three prisoners beaten or tortured to death by American interrogators at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan - the US admitted to two of the three "deaths under interrogation" back on 6 March - and the scandal of Guatanamo with its trussed-up, drugged and hooded prisons, its drumhead courts and its probable death chambers (for Brits, too, it seems), we can forget Israel's beatings.
Loud were we in our outrage when Israel's indisciplined soldiery looted and vandalised the Palestinian homes of Ramallah last year - but we can complain no more. For now we know that America's indisiplined soldiery (from the 3rd Infantry Division, to be exact) looted their way through Baghdad airport in the days after its capture on 3 April. All praise to Time magazine - of all publications - for breaking this story. But please, no more criticism of Israel's venal soldiers.
Europeans chorused their indignation at Israel's murder of "wanted" Palestinians - or "targeted killing", as Israel and the BBC like to call this revolting practice. Yet now that America openly boasts just the same vile tactics - attacking cars in Yemen, convoys in Iraq, villages in Afghanistan (and just who did they kill in that latest convoy attack near the Syrian border?) - we must be silent.
Last year, the Israelis produced a "dossier" culled from captured Palestinian documents, "proving" that Arafat was directing "terrorism" against Israel. The papers, mistranslated and doctored, proved nothing of the kind. But after Tony Blair's mendacious "dodgy dossier" before the Iraq war, who are we to criticise Israel for its lies?
And how can we ever protest Israel's flagrant violation of UN Resolution 242 and its occupation of Palestinian territory when the United States is occupying the entire ancient land of Iraq after illegally invading the country, killing thousands of its civilians, taking over its oil fields and then failing even to capture the murderous dictator who brutalised his own people (let alone the weapons of mass destruction which don't exist?)
Yes, precedents are dangerous things. Take the signal prescient event that occurred in the life of many Independent readers. A massive construction, symbol of a nation's power, was destroyed by "terrorists". The nation's president immediately signed into law a decree for the "protection of the people and the state", including mass arrests and the right to impose "restrictions on personal liberty ... violations of the privacy of postal ... and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches ..."
The government then said it had "proof" that "terrorists" were going to attack the homeland, to destroy "government buildings, museums ... and essential plants". This legislation then allowed the elected leader of that nation to embark on a series of cruel occupations, after the second of which he announced that "not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators".
The public building destroyed by "terrorists" was the Reichstag, the "enabling legislation" to destroy human rights legislation was signed by Hindenburg, the "proof" of the terrorist plots was provided by the Prussian government. The elected leader who claimed to be "liberating" Austria was Adolf Hitler.
A monstrous parallel, of course; revolting, historically out of all proportion, bizarre. Well, let us hope so.