"Arafat used to make the same expressions of grief when his gunmen murdered innocent Lebanese"
04 December 2001
Can Ariel Sharon control his own people? Can he control his army? Can he stop them from killing children, leaving booby traps in orchards or firing tank shells into refugee camps? Can Sharon stop his rabble of an army from destroying hundreds of Palestinian refugee homes in Gaza? Can Sharon "crack down" on Jewish settlers and prevent them from stealing more land from Palestinians? Can he stop his secret-service killers from murdering their Palestinian enemies or carrying out " targeted killings", as the BBC was still gutlessly calling these executions yesterday in its effort to avoid Israeli criticism.
It is, of course, forbidden to ask these questions. So let's "legalise" them. The Palestinian suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa are disgusting, evil, revolting, unforgivable. I saw the immediate aftermath of the Pizzeria suicide bombing in Jerusalem last August: Israeli women and children, ripped apart by explosives that had nails packed around them designed to ensure that those who survived were scarred for life.
I remember Yasser Arafat's grovelling message of condolence, and I thought to myself like any Israeli, I guess that I didn't believe a word of it. In fact, I don't believe a word of it. Arafat used to make the same eloquent expressions of grief when his gunmen murdered innocent Lebanese during that country's civil war. Bullshit, I used to think. And I still do.
But there was a clue to the real problem only hours after the latest bloodbath in Israel. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, was being questioned with characteristic obsequiousness on CNN about his reaction to the slaughter. Nothing, he said, could justify such "terrorism", and he went on to refer to the plight of the Palestinians, who suffer "50 per cent unemployment". I sat up at that point. Unemployment? Is that what Mr Powell thought this was about.
And my mind went back to his speech at Louisberg University on 20 November when he launched or so we were supposed to believe his Middle-East initiative. "Palestinians must..." was the theme: Palestinians must "end the violence"; Palestinians must "arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of terrorist acts"; Palestinians "need to understand that, however legitimate their claims" note the word "however" "they cannot be... addressed by violence"; Palestinians "must realise that violence has had a terrible impact on Israel". Only when General Powell told his audience that Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza must end, did it become clear that Israel was occupying Palestine rather than the other way round.
The reality is that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is the last colonial war. The French thought that they were fighting the last battle of this kind. They had long ago conquered Algeria. They set up their farms and settlements in the most beautiful land in North Africa. And when the Algerians demanded independence, they called them "terrorists" and they shot down their demonstrators and they tortured their guerrilla enemies and they murdered in "targeted killings" their antagonists.
In just the same way, we are responding to the latest massacre in Israel according to the rules of the State Department, CNN, the BBC and Downing Street. Arafat has got to come alive, to get real, to perform his duty as the West's policeman in the Middle East. President Mubarak does it in Egypt; King Abdullah does it in Jordan; King Fahd does it in Saudi Arabia. They control their people for us. It is their duty. They must fulfil their moral obligations, without any reference to history or to the pain and the suffering of their people.
So let me tell a little story. A few hours before I wrote this article exactly four hours after the last suicide bomber had destroyed himself and his innocent victims in Haifa I visited a grotty, fly-blown hospital in Quetta, the Pakistani border city where Afghan victims of American bombing raids are brought for treatment. Surrounded by an army of flies in bed No 12, Mahmat most Afghans have no family names told me his story. There were no CNN cameras, no BBC reporters in this hospital to film the patient. Nor will there be. Mahmat had been asleep in his home in the village of Kazikarez six days ago when a bomb from an American B-52 fell on his village. He was asleep in one room, his wife with the children. His son Nourali died, as did Jaber aged 10 Janaan, eight, Salamo, six, Twayir, four, and Palwasha the only girl two.
"The plane flies so high that we cannot hear them and the mud roof fell on them," Mahmat said. His wife Rukia whom he permitted me to see lay in the next room (bed No 13). She did not know that her children were dead. She was 25 and looked 45. A cloth dignified her forehead. Her children like so many Afghan innocents in this frightful War for civilisation were victims whom Mr Bush and Mr Blair will never acknowledge. And watching Mahmat plead for money the American bomb had blasted away his clothes and he was naked beneath the hospital blanket I could see something terrible: he and the angry cousin beside him and the uncle and the wife's brother in the hospital attacking America for the murders that they had inflicted on their family...
One day, I suspect, Mahmat's relatives may be angry enough to take their revenge on the United States, in which case they will be terrorists, men of violence. We may even ask if their leaders could control them. They are not bin Ladens, Mahmat's family said that "We are neither Taliban nor Arab" but, frankly, could we blame them if they decided to strike at the United States for the bloody and terrible crime done to their family. Can the United States stop bombing villages? Can Washington persuade its special forces to protect prisoners? Can the Americans control their own people?
Report by Robert Fisk in Kila Abdullah after Afghan border ordeal
10 December 2001
They started by shaking hands. We said "Salaam aleikum" peace be upon you then the first pebbles flew past my face. A small boy tried to grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head. I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.
So why record my few minutes of terror and self-disgust under assault near the Afghan border, bleeding and crying like an animal, when hundreds let us be frank and say thousands of innocent civilians are dying under American air strikes in Afghanistan, when the "War of Civilisation" is burning and maiming the Pashtuns of Kandahar and destroying their homes because "good" must triumph over "evil"?
Some of the Afghans in the little village had been there for years, others had arrived desperate and angry and mourning their slaughtered loved ones over the past two weeks. It was a bad place for a car to break down. A bad time, just before the Iftar, the end of the daily fast of Ramadan. But what happened to us was symbolic of the hatred and fury and hypocrisy of this filthy war, a growing band of destitute Afghan men, young and old, who saw foreigners enemies in their midst and tried to destroy at least one of them.
Many of these Afghans, so we were to learn, were outraged by what they had seen on television of the Mazar-i-Sharif massacres, of the prisoners killed with their hands tied behind their backs. A villager later told one of our drivers that they had seen the videotape of CIA officers "Mike" and "Dave" threatening death to a kneeling prisoner at Mazar. They were uneducated I doubt if many could read but you don't have to have a schooling to respond to the death of loved ones under a B-52's bombs. At one point a screaming teenager had turned to my driver and asked, in all sincerity: "Is that Mr Bush?"
It must have been about 4.30pm that we reached Kila Abdullah, halfway between the Pakistani city of Quetta and the border town of Chaman; Amanullah, our driver, Fayyaz Ahmed, our translator, Justin Huggler of The Independent fresh from covering the Mazar massacre and myself.
The first we knew that something was wrong was when the car stopped in the middle of the narrow, crowded street. A film of white steam was rising from the bonnet of our jeep, a constant shriek of car horns and buses and trucks and rickshaws protesting at the road-block we had created. All four of us got out of the car and pushed it to the side of the road. I muttered something to Justin about this being "a bad place to break down". Kila Abdulla was home to thousands of Afghan refugees, the poor and huddled masses that the war has produced in Pakistan.
Amanullah went off to find another car there is only one thing worse than a crowd of angry men and that's a crowd of angry men after dark and Justin and I smiled at the initially friendly crowd that had already gathered round our steaming vehicle. I shook a lot of hands perhaps I should have thought of Mr Bush and uttered a lot of "Salaam aleikums". I knew what could happen if the smiling stopped.
The crowd grew larger and I suggested to Justin that we move away from the jeep, walk into the open road. A child had flicked his finger hard against my wrist and I persuaded myself that it was an accident, a childish moment of contempt. Then a pebble whisked past my head and bounced off Justin's shoulder. Justin turned round. His eyes spoke of concern and I remember how I breathed in. Please, I thought, it was just a prank. Then another kid tried to grab my bag. It contained my passport, credit cards, money, diary, contacts book, mobile phone. I yanked it back and put the strap round my shoulder. Justin and I crossed the road and someone punched me in the back.
How do you walk out of a dream when the characters suddenly turn hostile? I saw one of the men who had been all smiles when we shook hands. He wasn't smiling now. Some of the smaller boys were still laughing but their grins were transforming into something else. The respected foreigner the man who had been all "salaam aleikum" a few minutes ago was upset, frightened, on the run. The West was being brought low. Justin was being pushed around and, in the middle of the road, we noticed a bus driver waving us to his vehicle. Fayyaz, still by the car, unable to understand why we had walked away, could no longer see us. Justin reached the bus and climbed aboard. As I put my foot on the step three men grabbed the strap of my bag and wrenched me back on to the road. Justin's hand shot out. "Hold on," he shouted. I did.
That's when the first mighty crack descended on my head. I almost fell down under the blow, my ears singing with the impact. I had expected this, though not so painful or hard, not so immediate. Its message was awful. Someone hated me enough to hurt me. There were two more blows, one on the back of my shoulder, a powerful fist that sent me crashing against the side of the bus while still clutching Justin's hand. The passengers were looking out at me and then at Justin. But they did not move. No one wanted to help.
I cried out "Help me Justin", and Justin who was doing more than any human could do by clinging to my ever loosening grip asked me over the screams of the crowd what I wanted him to do. Then I realised. I could only just hear him. Yes, they were shouting. Did I catch the word "kaffir" infidel? Perhaps I was was wrong. That's when I was dragged away from Justin.
There were two more cracks on my head, one on each side and for some odd reason, part of my memory some small crack in my brain registered a moment at school, at a primary school called the Cedars in Maidstone more than 50 years ago when a tall boy building sandcastles in the playground had hit me on the head. I had a memory of the blow smelling, as if it had affected my nose. The next blow came from a man I saw carrying a big stone in his right hand. He brought it down on my forehead with tremendous force and something hot and liquid splashed down my face and lips and chin. I was kicked. On the back, on the shins, on my right thigh. Another teenager grabbed my bag yet again and I was left clinging to the strap, looking up suddenly and realising there must have been 60 men in front of me, howling. Oddly, it wasn't fear I felt but a kind of wonderment. So this is how it happens. I knew that I had to respond. Or, so I reasoned in my stunned state, I had to die.
The only thing that shocked me was my own physical sense of collapse, my growing awareness of the liquid beginning to cover me. I don't think I've ever seen so much blood before. For a second, I caught a glimpse of something terrible, a nightmare face my own reflected in the window of the bus, streaked in blood, my hands drenched in the stuff like Lady Macbeth, slopping down my pullover and the collar of my shirt until my back was wet and my bag dripping with crimson and vague splashes suddenly appearing on my trousers.
The more I bled, the more the crowd gathered and beat me with their fists. Pebbles and small stones began to bounce off my head and shoulders. How long, I remembered thinking, could this go on? My head was suddenly struck by stones on both sides at the same time not thrown stones but stones in the palms of men who were using them to try and crack my skull. Then a fist punched me in the face, splintering my glasses on my nose, another hand grabbed at the spare pair of spectacles round my neck and ripped the leather container from the cord.
I guess at this point I should thank Lebanon. For 25 years, I have covered Lebanon's wars and the Lebanese used to teach me, over and over again, how to stay alive: take a decision any decision but don't do nothing.
So I wrenched the bag back from the hands of the young man who was holding it. He stepped back. Then I turned on the man on my right, the one holding the bloody stone in his hand and I bashed my fist into his mouth. I couldn't see very much my eyes were not only short-sighted without my glasses but were misting over with a red haze but I saw the man sort of cough and a tooth fall from his lip and then he fell back on the road. For a second the crowd stopped. Then I went for the other man, clutching my bag under my arm and banging my fist into his nose. He roared in anger and it suddenly turned all red. I missed another man with a punch, hit one more in the face, and ran.
I was back in the middle of the road but could not see. I brought my hands to my eyes and they were full of blood and with my fingers I tried to scrape the gooey stuff out. It made a kind of sucking sound but I began to see again and realised that I was crying and weeping and that the tears were cleaning my eyes of blood. What had I done, I kept asking myself? I had been punching and attacking Afghan refugees, the very people I had been writing about for so long, the very dispossessed, mutilated people whom my own country among others was killing along, with the Taliban, just across the border. God spare me, I thought. I think I actually said it. The men whose families our bombers were killing were now my enemies too.
Then something quite remarkable happened. A man walked up to me, very calmly, and took me by the arm. I couldn't see him very well for all the blood that was running into my eyes but he was dressed in a kind of robe and wore a turban and had a white-grey beard. And he led me away from the crowd. I looked over my shoulder. There were now a hundred men behind me and a few stones skittered along the road, but they were not aimed at me presumably to avoid hitting the stranger. He was like an Old Testament figure or some Bible story, the Good Samaritan, a Muslim man perhaps a mullah in the village who was trying to save my life.
He pushed me into the back of a police truck. But the policemen didn't move. They were terrified. "Help me," I kept shouting through the tiny window at the back of their cab, my hands leaving streams of blood down the glass. They drove a few metres and stopped until the tall man spoke to them again. Then they drove another 300 metres.
And there, beside the road, was a Red Cross-Red Crescent convoy. The crowd was still behind us. But two of the medical attendants pulled me behind one of their vehicles, poured water over my hands and face and began pushing bandages on to my head and face and the back of my head. "Lie down and we'll cover you with a blanket so they can't see you," one of them said. They were both Muslims, Bangladeshis and their names should be recorded because they were good men and true: Mohamed Abdul Halim and Sikder Mokaddes Ahmed. I lay on the floor, groaning, aware that I might live.
Within minutes, Justin arrived. He had been protected by a massive soldier from the Baluchistan Levies true ghost of the British Empire who, with a single rifle, kept the crowds away from the car in which Justin was now sitting. I fumbled with my bag. They never got the bag, I kept saying to myself, as if my passport and my credit cards were a kind of Holy Grail. But they had seized my final pair of spare glasses I was blind without all three and my mobile telephone was missing and so was my contacts book, containing 25 years of telephone numbers throughout the Middle East. What was I supposed to do? Ask everyone who ever knew me to re-send their telephone numbers?
Goddamit, I said and tried to bang my fist on my side until I realised it was bleeding from a big gash on the wrist the mark of the tooth I had just knocked out of a man's jaw, a man who was truly innocent of any crime except that of being the victim of the world.
I had spent more than two and a half decades reporting the humiliation and misery of the Muslim world and now their anger had embraced me too. Or had it? There were Mohamed and Sikder of the Red Crescent and Fayyaz who came panting back to the car incandescent at our treatment and Amanullah who invited us to his home for medical treatment. And there was the Muslim saint who had taken me by the arm.
And I realised there were all the Afghan men and boys who had attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was entirely the product of others, of us of we who had armed their struggle against the Russians and ignored their pain and laughed at their civil war and then armed and paid them again for the "War for Civilisation" just a few miles away and then bombed their homes and ripped up their families and called them "collateral damage".
So I thought I should write about what happened to us in this fearful, silly, bloody, tiny incident. I feared other versions would produce a different narrative, of how a British journalist was "beaten up by a mob of Afghan refugees".
And of course, that's the point. The people who were assaulted were the Afghans, the scars inflicted by us by B-52s, not by them. And I'll say it again. If I was an Afghan refugee in Kila Abdullah, I would have done just what they did. I would have attacked Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.
Published on Thursday, April 10, 2003 by the lndependent/UK
by Robert Fisk
It was a scene from the Crimean War; a hospital of screaming wounded and floors running with blood. I stepped in the stuff; it stuck to my shoes, to the clothes of all the doctors in the packed emergency room, it swamped the passageways and the blankets and sheets.
The Iraqi civilians and soldiers brought to the Adnan Khairallah Martyr Hospital in the last hours of Saddam Hussein's regime yesterday sometimes still clinging to severed limbs are the dark side of victory and defeat; final proof, like the dead who are buried within hours, that war is about the total failure of the human spirit. As I wandered amid the beds and the groaning men and women lying on them Dante's visit to the circles of hell should have included these visions the same old questions recurred. Was this for 11 September? For human rights? For weapons of mass destruction?
In a jammed corridor, I came across a middle-aged man on a soaked hospital trolley. He had a head wound which was almost indescribable. From his right eye socket hung a handkerchief that was streaming blood on to the floor. A little girl lay on a filthy bed, one leg broken, the other so badly gouged out by shrapnel during an American air attack that the only way doctors could prevent her moving it was to tie her foot to a rope weighed down with concrete blocks.
Her name was Rawa Sabri. And as I walked through this place of horror, the American shelling began to bracket the Tigris river outside, bringing back to the wounded the terror of death which they had suffered only hours before. The road bridge I had just crossed to reach the hospital came under fire and clouds of cordite smoke drifted over the medical center. Tremendous explosions shook the wards and corridors as doctors pushed shrieking children away from the windows.
Florence Nightingale never reached this part of the old Ottoman Empire. But her equivalent is Dr Khaldoun al-Baeri, the director and chief surgeon, a gently-spoken man who has slept an hour a day for six days and who is trying to save the lives of more than a hundred souls a day with one generator and half his operating theatres out of use you cannot carry patients in your arms to the 16th floor when they are coughing blood.
Dr Baeri speaks like a sleepwalker, trying to describe how difficult it is to stop a wounded man or woman from suffocating when they have been wounded in the thorax, explaining that after four operations to extract metal from the brains of his patients, he is almost too tired to think, let alone in English. As I leave him, he tells me that he does not know where his family is.
"Our house was hit and my neighbors sent a message to tell me they sent them away somewhere. I do not know where. I have two little girls, they are twins, and I told them they must be brave because their father had to work night and day at the hospital and they mustn't cry because I have to work for humanity. And now I have no idea where they are." Then Dr Baeri choked on his words and began to cry and could not say goodbye.
There was a man on the second floor with a fearful wound to the neck. It seemed the doctors could not staunch his blood and he was dribbling his life away all over the floor. Something wicked and sharp had cut into his stomach and six inches of bandages could not stop the blood from pumping out of him. His brother stood beside him and raised his hand to me and asked: "Why? Why?"
A small child with a drip-feed in its nose lay on a blanket. It had had to wait four days for an operation. Its eyes looked dead. I didn't have the heart to ask its mother if this was a boy or a girl.
There was an air strike perhaps half a mile away and the hospital corridors echoed with the blast, long and low and powerful, and it was followed by a rising chorus of moans and cries from the children outside the wards. Below them, in that worst of all emergency rooms, they had brought in three men who had been burned across their faces and arms and chests and legs; naked men with a skin of blood and tissues whom the doctors pasted with white cream, who sat on their beds with their skinless arms held upwards, each beseeching a non-existing savior to rescue him from his pain.
"No! No! No!" another young man screamed as doctors tried to cut open his pants. He shrieked and cried and whinnied like a horse. I thought he was a soldier. He looked tough and strong and well fed but now he was a child again and he cried: "Umma, Umma [Mummy, mummy]".
I left this awful hospital to find the American shells falling in the river outside. I noticed, too, some military tents on a small patch of grass near the hospital's administration building and "God damn it," I said under my breath an armored vehicle with a gun mounted on it, hidden under branches and foliage. It was only a few meters inside the hospital grounds. But the hospital was being used to conceal it. And I couldn't help noticing the name of the hospital. Adnan Khairallah had been President Saddam's minister of defense, a man who allegedly fell out with his leader and died in a helicopter crash whose cause was never explained.
Even in the last hours of the Battle of Baghdad, its victims had to lie in a building named in honor of a murdered man.
Published on Friday, March 28, 2003 by the lndependent/UK
by Robert Fisk
Two British soldiers lie dead on a Basra roadway, a small Iraqi girl victim of an Anglo American air strike is brought to hospital with her intestines spilling out of her stomach, a terribly wounded woman screams in agony as doctors try to take off her black dress. An Iraqi general, surrounded by hundreds of his armed troops, stands in central Basra and announces that Iraq's second city remains firmly in Iraqi hands. The unedited al-Jazeera videotape filmed over the past 36 hours and newly arrived in Baghdad is raw, painful, devastating.
It is also proof that Basra reportedly "captured'' and "secured'' by British troops last week is indeed under the control of Saddam Hussein's forces. Despite claims by British officers that some form of uprising has broken out in Basra, cars and buses continue to move through the streets while Iraqis queue patiently for gas bottles as they are unloaded from a government truck.
A remarkable part of the tape shows fireballs blooming over western Basra and the explosion of incoming and presumably British shells. The short sequence of the dead British soldiers over which Tony Blair voiced such horror yesterday is little different from dozens of similar clips of dead Iraqi soldiers shown on British television over the past 12 years, pictures which never drew any condemnation from the Prime Minister. The two Britons, still in uniform, are lying on a roadway, arms and legs apart, one of them apparently hit in the head, the other shot in the chest and abdomen.
Another sequence from the same tape shows crowds of Basra civilians and armed men in civilian clothes, kicking the soldiers' British Army Jeep and dancing on top of the vehicle. Other men can be seen kicking the overturned Ministry of Defense trailer, which the Jeep was towing when it was presumably ambushed. Also to be observed on the unedited tape which was driven up to Baghdad on the open road from Basra is a British pilotless drone photo-reconnaissance aircraft, its red and blue roundels visible on one wing, shot down and lying overturned on a roadway. Marked "ARMY'' in capital letters, it carries the code sign ZJ300 on its tail and is attached to a large cylindrical pod which probably contains the plane's camera.
Far more terrible than the pictures of dead British soldiers, however, is the tape from Basra's largest hospital that shows victims of the Anglo-American bombardment being brought to the operating rooms shrieking in pain.
A middle-aged man is carried into the hospital in pajamas, soaked head to foot in blood. A little girl of perhaps four is brought into the operating room on a trolley, staring at a heap of her own intestines protruding from the left side of her stomach. A blue-uniformed doctor pours water over the little girl's guts and then gently applies a bandage before beginning surgery. A woman in black with what appears to be a stomach wound cries out as doctors try to strip her for surgery. In another sequence, a trail of blood leads from the impact of an incoming presumably British shell. Next to the crater is a pair of plastic slippers.
The al-Jazeera tapes, most of which have never been seen, are the first vivid proof that Basra remains totally outside British control. Not only is one of the city's main roads to Baghdad still open this is how the three main tapes reached the Iraqi capital but General Khaled Hatem is interviewed in a Basra street, surrounded by hundreds of his uniformed and armed troops, and telling al-Jazeera's reporter that his men will "never'' surrender to Iraq's enemies. Armed Baath Party militiamen can also be seen in the streets, where traffic cops are directing lorries and buses near the city's Sheraton Hotel.
Mohamed al-Abdullah, al-Jazeera's correspondent in Basra, must be the bravest journalist in Iraq right now. In the sequence of three tapes, he can be seen conducting interviews with families under fire and calmly reporting the incoming British artillery bombardment. One tape shows that the Sheraton Hotel on the banks of Shatt al-Arab river has sustained shell damage.
On the edge of the river beside one of the huge statues of Iraq's 1980-88 war martyrs, each pointing an accusing finger across the waterway towards Iran Basra residents can be seen filling jerry cans from the sewage-polluted river. Five days ago the Iraqi government said 30 civilians had been killed in Basra and another 63 wounded. Yesterday, it claimed that more than 4,000 civilians had been wounded in Iraq since the war began and more than 350 killed.
But Mr Abdullah's tape shows at least seven more bodies brought to the Basra hospital mortuary over the past 36 hours. One, his head still pouring blood on to the mortuary floor, was identified as an Arab correspondent for a Western news agency. Other harrowing scenes show the partially decapitated body of a little girl, her red scarf still wound round her neck. Another small girl was lying on a stretcher with her brain and left ear missing. Another dead child had its feet blown away. There was no indication whether American or British ordnance had killed these children. The tapes give no indication of Iraqi military casualties.
But at a time when the Iraqi authorities will not allow Western reporters to visit Basra, this is the nearest to independent evidence we have of continued resistance in the city and the failure of the British to capture it. For days the Iraqi have been denying optimistic reports from "embedded'' reporters especially on the BBC who gave the impression that Basra was "secured'' or otherwise in effect under British control. This the tape conclusively proves to be untrue. There is also a sequence showing two men, both black, who are claimed by Iraqi troops to be US prisoners of war. No questions are asked of the men, who are dressed in identical black shirts and jackets. Both appear nervous and gaze at the camera crew and Iraqi troops crowded behind them.
Of course, it is still possible that some small-scale opposition to the Iraqi regime broke out in the city over the past few days, as British officers have claimed. But, seeing the tapes, it is hard to imagine that it amounted, if it existed at all, to anything more than a brief gun battle. The unedited reports therefore provide damaging proof that Anglo-American spokesmen have not been telling the truth about the battle for Basra. And in the end this is far more devastating to the invading armies than the sight of two dead British soldiers or since Iraqi lives are as sacred as British lives than the pictures of dead Iraqi children.
'Everything we have believed in since the Second
World War goes by the board as we pursue our own exclusive war.'
29 November 2001 The Independent
We are becoming war criminals in Afghanistan. The US Air Force bombs Mazar-i-Sharif for the Northern Alliance, and our heroic Afghan allies who slaughtered 50,000 people in Kabul between 1992 and 1996 move into the city and execute up to 300 Taliban fighters. The report is a footnote on the television satellite channels, a "nib" in journalistic parlance. Perfectly normal, it seems. The Afghans have a "tradition" of revenge. So, with the strategic assistance of the USAF, a war crime is committed.
Now we have the Mazar-i-Sharif prison "revolt," in which Taliban inmates opened fire on their Alliance jailers. US Special Forces and, it has emerged, British troops helped the Alliance to overcome the uprising and, sure enough, CNN tells us some prisoners were "executed" trying to escape. It is an atrocity. British troops are now stained with war crimes. Within days, The Independent's Justin Huggler has found more executed Taliban members in Kunduz.
The Americans have even less excuse for this massacre. For the US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, stated quite specifically during the siege of the city that US air raids on the Taliban defenders would stop "if the Northern Alliance requested it". Leaving aside the revelation that the thugs and murderers of the Northern Alliance were now acting as air controllers to the USAF in its battle with the thugs and murderers of the Taliban, Mr Rumsfeld's incriminating remark places Washington in the witness box of any war-crimes trial over Kunduz. The US were acting in full military co-operation with the Northern Alliance militia.
Most television journalists, to their shame, have shown little or no interest in these disgraceful crimes. Cosying up to the Northern Alliance, chatting to the American troops, most have done little more than mention the war crimes against prisoners in the midst of their reports. What on earth has gone wrong with our moral compass since 11 September?
Perhaps I can suggest an answer. After both the First and Second World Wars, we the "West" grew a forest of legislation to prevent further war crimes. The very first Anglo-French-Russian attempt to formulate such laws was provoked by the Armenian Holocaust at the hands of the Turks in 1915; The Entente said it would hold personally responsible "all members of the (Turkish) Ottoman government and those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres" . After the Jewish Holocaust and the collapse of Germany in 1945, article 6 (C) of the Nuremberg Charter and the Preamble of the UN Convention on genocide referred to "crimes against humanity". Each new post-1945 war produced a raft of legislation and the creation of evermore human rights groups to lobby the world on liberal, humanistic Western values.
Over the past 50 years, we sat on our moral pedestal and lectured the Chinese and the Soviets, the Arabs and the Africans, about human rights. We pronounced on the human-rights crimes of Bosnians and Croatians and Serbs. We put many of them in the dock, just as we did the Nazis at Nuremberg. Thousands of dossiers were produced, describing in nauseous detail the secret courts and death squads and torture and extra judicial executions carried out by rogue states and pathological dictators. Quite right too.
Yet suddenly, after 11 September, we went mad. We bombed Afghan villages into rubble, along with their inhabitants blaming the insane Taliban and Osama bin Laden for our slaughter and now we have allowed our gruesome militia allies to execute their prisoners. President George Bush has signed into law a set of secret military courts to try and then liquidate anyone believed to be a "terrorist murderer" in the eyes of America's awesomely inefficient intelligence services. And make no mistake about it, we are talking here about legally sanctioned American government death squads. They have been created, of course, so that Osama bin Laden and his men should they be caught rather than killed, will have no public defence; just a pseudo trial and a firing squad.
It's quite clear what has happened. When people with yellow or black or brownish skin, with Communist or Islamic or Nationalist credentials, murder their prisoners or carpet bomb villages to kill their enemies or set up death squad courts, they must be condemned by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the "civilised" world. We are the masters of human rights, the Liberals, the great and good who can preach to the impoverished masses. But when our people are murdered when our glittering buildings are destroyed then we tear up every piece of human rights legislation, send off the B-52s in the direction of the impoverished masses and set out to murder our enemies.
Winston Churchill took the Bush view of his enemies. In 1945, he preferred the straightforward execution of the Nazi leadership. Yet despite the fact that Hitler's monsters were responsible for at least 50 million deaths 10,000 times greater than the victims of 11 September the Nazi murderers were given a trial at Nuremberg because US President Truman made a remarkable decision. "Undiscriminating executions or punishments," he said, "without definite findings of guilt fairly arrived at, would not fit easily on the American conscience or be remembered by our children with pride."
No one should be surprised that Mr Bush a small-time Texas Governor-Executioner should fail to understand the morality of a statesman in the Whitehouse. What is so shocking is that the Blairs, Schröders, Chiracs and all the television boys should have remained so gutlessly silent in the face of the Afghan executions and East European-style legislation sanctified since 11 September.
There are ghostly shadows around to remind us of the consequences of state murder. In France, a general goes on trial after admitting to torture and murder in the 1954-62 Algerian war, because he referred to his deeds as "justifiable acts of duty performed without pleasure or remorse". And in Brussels, a judge will decide if the Israeli Prime Minister, Arial Sharon, can be prosecuted for his "personal responsibility" for the 1982 massacre in Sabra and Chatila.
Yes, I know the Taliban were a cruel bunch of bastards. They committed most of their massacres outside Mazar-i-Sharif in the late 1990s. They executed women in the Kabul football stadium. And yes, lets remember that 11 September was a crime against humanity.
But I have a problem with all this. George Bush says that "you are either for us or against us" in the war for civilisation against evil. Well, I'm sure not for bin Laden. But I'm not for Bush. I'm actively against the brutal, cynical, lying "war of civilisation" that he has begun so mendaciously in our name and which has now cost as many lives as the World Trade Centre mass murder.
At this moment, I can't help remembering my dad. He was old enough to have fought in the First World War. In the third Battle of Arras. And as great age overwhelmed him near the end of the century, he raged against the waste and murder of the 1914-1918 war. When he died in 1992, I inherited the campaign medal of which he was once so proud, proof that he had survived a war he had come to hate and loathe and despise. On the back, it says: "The Great War for Civilisation." Maybe I should send it to George Bush.
Published on Thursday, March 27, 2003 by the lndependent/UK
by Robert Fisk
It was an outrage, an obscenity. The severed hand on the metal door, the swamp of blood and mud across the road, the human brains inside a garage, the incinerated, skeletal remains of an Iraqi mother and her three small children in their still-smoldering car.Two missiles from an American jet killed them all by my estimate, more than 20 Iraqi civilians, torn to pieces before they could be 'liberated' by the nation that destroyed their lives. Who dares, I ask myself, to call this 'collateral damage'? Abu Taleb Street was packed with pedestrians and motorists when the American pilot approached through the dense sandstorm that covered northern Baghdad in a cloak of red and yellow dust and rain yesterday morning.
It's a dirt-poor neighborhood, of mostly Shia Muslims, the same people whom Messrs Bush and Blair still fondly hope will rise up against President Saddam Hussein, a place of oil-sodden car-repair shops, overcrowded apartments and cheap cafés. Everyone I spoke to heard the plane. One man, so shocked by the headless corpses he had just seen, could say only two words. "Roar, flash," he kept saying and then closed his eyes so tight that the muscles rippled between them.
How should one record so terrible an event? Perhaps a medical report would be more appropriate. But the final death toll is expected to be near to 30 and Iraqis are now witnessing these awful things each day; so there is no reason why the truth, all the truth, of what they see should not be told.
For another question occurred to me as I walked through this place of massacre yesterday. If this is what we are seeing in Baghdad, what is happening in Basra and Nasiriyah and Kerbala? How many civilians are dying there too, anonymously, indeed unrecorded, because there are no reporters to be witness to their suffering?
Abu Hassan and Malek Hammoud were preparing lunch for customers at the Nasser restaurant on the north side of Abu Taleb Street. The missile that killed them landed next to the westbound carriageway, its blast tearing away the front of the café and cutting the two men the first 48, the second only 18 to pieces. A fellow worker led me through the rubble. "This is all that is left of them now," he said, holding out before me an oven pan dripping with blood.
At least 15 cars burst into flames, burning many of their occupants to death. Several men tore desperately at the doors of another flame-shrouded car in the center of the street that had been flipped upside down by the same missile. They were forced to watch helplessly as the woman and her three children inside were cremated alive in front of them. The second missile hit neatly on the eastbound carriageway, sending shards of metal into three men standing outside a concrete apartment block with the words, "This is God's possession" written in marble on the outside wall.
The building's manager, Hishem Danoon, ran to the doorway as soon as he heard the massive explosion. "I found Ta'ar in pieces over there," he told me. His head was blown off. "That's his hand." A group of young men and a woman took me into the street and there, a scene from any horror film, was Ta'ar's hand, cut off at the wrist, his four fingers and thumb grasping a piece of iron roofing. His young colleague, Sermed, died the same instant. His brains lay piled a few feet away, a pale red and gray mess behind a burnt car. Both men worked for Danoon. So did a doorman who was also killed.
As each survivor talked, the dead regained their identities. There was the electrical shop-owner killed behind his counter by the same missile that cut down Ta'ar and Sermed and the doorman, and the young girl standing on the central reservation, trying to cross the road, and the truck driver who was only feet from the point of impact and the beggar who regularly called to see Mr Danoon for bread and who was just leaving when the missiles came screaming through the sandstorm to destroy him.
In Qatar, the Anglo-American forces let's forget this nonsense about "coalition" announced an inquiry. The Iraqi government, who are the only ones to benefit from the propaganda value of such a bloodbath, naturally denounced the slaughter, which they initially put at 14 dead. So what was the real target? Some Iraqis said there was a military encampment less than a mile from the street, though I couldn't find it. Others talked about a local fire brigade headquarters, but the fire brigade can hardly be described as a military target.
Certainly, there had been an attack less than an hour earlier on a military camp further north. I was driving past the base when two rockets exploded and I saw Iraqi soldiers running for their lives out of the gates and along the side of the highway. Then I heard two more explosions; these were the missiles that hit Abu Taleb Street.
Of course, the pilot who killed the innocent yesterday could not see his victims. Pilots fire through computer-aligned co-ordinates, and the sandstorm would have hidden the street from his vision. But when one of Malek Hammoud's friends asked me how the Americans could so blithely kill those they claimed to want to liberate, he didn't want to learn about the science of avionics or weapons delivery systems.
And why should he? For this is happening almost every day in Baghdad. Three days ago, an entire family of nine was wiped out in their home near the center of the city. A busload of civilian passengers were reportedly killed on a road south of Baghdad two days ago. Only yesterday were Iraqis learning the identity of five civilian passengers slaughtered on a Syrian bus that was attacked by American aircraft close to the Iraqi border at the weekend.
The truth is that nowhere is safe in Baghdad, and as the Americans and British close their siege in the next few days or hours, that simple message will become ever more real and ever more bloody.
We may put on the hairshirt of morality in explaining why these people should die. They died because of 11 September, we may say, because of President Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction", because of human rights abuses, because of our desperate desire to "liberate" them all. Let us not confuse the issue with oil. Either way, I'll bet we are told President Saddam is ultimately responsible for their deaths. We shan't mention the pilot, of course.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
Veteran war reporter Robert Fisk tours the Baghdad hospital to see the wounded after a devastating night of air strikes [From the British newspaper, The Independent]
23 March 2003
Donald Rumsfeld says the American attack on Baghdad is "as targeted an air campaign as has ever existed" but he should not try telling that to five-year-old Doha Suheil. She looked at me yesterday morning, drip feed attached to her nose, a deep frown over her small face as she tried vainly to move the left side of her body. The cruise missile that exploded close to her home in the Radwaniyeh suburb of Baghdad blasted shrapnel into her tiny legs they were bound up with gauze and, far more seriously, into her spine. Now she has lost all movement in her left leg.
Her mother bends over the bed and straightens her right leg which the little girl thrashes around outside the blanket. Somehow, Doha's mother thinks that if her child's two legs lie straight beside each other, her daughter will recover from her paralysis. She was the first of 101 patients brought to the Al-Mustansaniya College Hospital after America's blitz on the city began on Friday night. Seven other members of her family were wounded in the same cruise missile bombardment; the youngest, a one-year-old baby, was being breastfed by her mother at the time.
There is something sick, obscene about these hospital visits. We bomb. They suffer. Then we turn up and take pictures of their wounded children. The Iraqi minister of health decides to hold an insufferable press conference outside the wards to emphasise the "bestial" nature of the American attack. The Americans say that they don't intend to hurt children. And Doha Suheil looks at me and the doctors for reassurance, as if she will awake from this nightmare and move her left leg and feel no more pain.
So let's forget, for a moment, the cheap propaganda of the regime and the equally cheap moralising of Messrs Rumsfeld and Bush, and take a trip around the Al-Mustansaniya College Hospital. For the reality of war is ultimately not about military victory and defeat, or the lies about "coalition forces" which our "embedded" journalists are now peddling about an invasion involving only the Americans, the British and a handful of Australians. War, even when it has international legitimacy which this war does not is primarily about suffering.
Take 50-year-old Amel Hassan, a peasant woman with tattoos on her arms and legs but who now lies on her hospital bed with massive purple bruises on her shoulders they are now twice their original size who was on her way to visit her daughter when the first American missile struck Baghdad. "I was just getting out of the taxi when there was a big explosion and I fell down and found my blood everywhere," she told me. "It was on my arms, my legs, my chest." Amel Hassan still has multiple shrapnel wounds in her chest.
Her five-year-old daughter Wahed lies in the next bed, whimpering with pain. She had climbed out of the taxi first and was almost at her aunt's front door when the explosion cut her down. Her feet are still bleeding although the blood has clotted around her toes and is staunched by the bandages on her ankles and lower legs. Two little boys are in the next room. Sade Selim is 11; his brother Omar is 14. Both have shrapnel wounds to their legs and chest.
Isra Riad is in the third room with almost identical injuries, in her case shrapnel wounds to the legs as she ran in terror from her house into her garden as the blitz began. Imam Ali is 23 and has multiple shrapnel wounds in her abdomen and lower bowel. Najla Hussein Abbas still tries to cover her head with a black scarf but she cannot hide the purple wounds to her legs. Multiple shrapnel wounds. After a while, "multiple shrapnel wounds" sounds like a natural disease which, I suppose among a people who have suffered more than 20 years of war it is.
And all this, I asked myself yesterday, was all this for 11 September 2001? All this was to "strike back" at our attackers, albeit that Doha Suheil, Wahed Hassan and Imam Ali have nothing absolutely nothing to do with those crimes against humanity, any more than has the awful Saddam? Who decided, I wonder, that these children, these young women, should suffer for 11 September?
Wars repeat themselves. Always, when "we" come to visit those we have bombed, we have the same question. In Libya in 1986, I remember how American reporters would repeatedly cross-question the wounded: had they perhaps been hit by shrapnel from their own anti-aircraft fire? Again, in 1991, "we" asked the Iraqi wounded the same question. And yesterday, a doctor found himself asked by a British radio reporter yes, you've guessed it "Do you think, doctor, that some of these people could have been hit by Iraqi anti-aircraft fire?"
Should we laugh or cry at this? Should we always blame "them" for their own wounds? Certainly we should ask why those cruise missiles exploded where they did, at least 320 in Baghdad alone, courtesy of the USS Kitty Hawk.
Isra Riad came from Sayadiyeh where there is a big military barracks. Najla Abbas's home is in Risalleh where there are villas belonging to Saddam's family. The two small Selim brothers live in Shirta Khamse where there is a store house for military vehicles. But that's the whole problem. Targets are scattered across the city. The poor and all the wounded I saw yesterday were poor live in cheap, sometimes wooden houses that collapse under blast damage.
It is the same old story. If we make war however much we blather on about our care for civilians we are going to kill and maim the innocent. Dr Habib Al-Hezai, whose FRCS was gained at Edinburgh University, counted 101 patients of the total 207 wounded in the raids in his hospital alone, of whom 85 were civilians 20 of them women and six of them children and 16 soldiers. A young man and a child of 12 had died under surgery. No one will say how many soldiers were killed during the actual attack.
Driving across Baghdad yesterday was an eerie experience. The targets were indeed carefully selected even though their destruction inevitably struck the innocent. There was one presidential palace I saw with 40ft high statues of the Arab warrior Salaheddin in each corner the face of each was, of course, that of Saddam and, neatly in between, a great black hole gouged into the façade of the building. The ministry of air weapons production was pulverised, a massive heap of pre-stressed concrete and rubble.
But outside, at the gate, there were two sandbag emplacements with smartly dressed Iraqi soldiers, rifles over the parapet, still ready to defend their ministry from the enemy which had already destroyed it.
The morning traffic built up on the roads beside the Tigris. No driver looked too hard at the Republican Palace on the other side of the river nor the smouldering ministry of armaments procurement. They burned for 12 hours after the first missile strikes. It was as if burning palaces and blazing ministries and piles of smoking rubble were a normal part of daily Baghdad life. But then again, no one under the present regime would want to spend too long looking at such things, would they?
Note the missing legs. Her death is worth it to Bush, a man who is a patholological criminal by any decent standards of justice and humanity. Is her death worth it to *you*? If so, what have you become under the Bush presidency? Think about it.
And Iraqis have noticed what all this means. In 1991, the Americans struck the refineries, the electricity grid, the water pipes, communications. But yesterday, Baghdad could still function. The landline telephones worked; the internet operated; the electrical power was at full capacity; the bridges over the Tigris remained unbombed. Because, of course, when "if" is still a sensitive phrase these days the Americans get here, they will need a working communications system, electricity, transport. What has been spared is not a gift to the Iraqi people: it is for the benefit of Iraq's supposed new masters.
The Iraq daily newspaper emerged yesterday with an edition of just four pages, a clutch of articles on the "steadfastness" of the nation steadfastness in Arabic is soummoud, the same name as the missile that Iraq partially destroyed before Bush forced the UN inspectors to leave by going to war and a headline which read "President: Victory will come [sic] in Iraqi hands".
Again, there has been no attempt by the US to destroy the television facilities because they presumably want to use them on arrival. During the bombing on Friday night, an Iraqi general appeared live on television to reassure the nation of victory. As he spoke, the blast waves from cruise missile explosions blew in the curtains behind him and shook the television camera.
So where does all this lead us? In the early hours of yesterday morning, I looked across the Tigris at the funeral pyre of the Republican Palace and the colonnaded ministry beside it. There were beacons of fire across Baghdad and the sky was lowering with smoke, the buttressed, rampart-like palace sheets of flame soaring from its walls looked like a medieval castle ablaze; Tsesiphon destroyed, Mesopotamia at the moment of its destruction as it has been seen for many times over so many thousands of years.
Xenophon struck south of here, Alexander to the north. The Mongols sacked Baghdad. The caliphs came. And then the Ottomans and then the British. All departed. Now come the Americans. It's not about legitimacy. It's about something much more seductive, something Saddam himself understands all too well, a special kind of power, the same power that every conqueror of Iraq wished to demonstrate as he smashed his way into the land of this ancient civilisation.
Yesterday afternoon the Iraqis lit massive fires of oil around the city of Baghdad in the hope of misleading the guidance system of the cruise missiles. Smoke against computers. The air-raid sirens began to howl again just after 3.20pm London time, followed by the utterly predictable sound of explosions.