Sniping specialists say of Falluja that there may not have been such a “target rich” battlefield for that kind of killing since the World War II battle for Stalingrad. The Los Angeles Times reports that US snipers have been killing hundreds of insurgents:
“Sometimes a guy will go down, and I'll let him scream a bit to destroy the morale of his buddies,” a Marine corporal said, “then I'll use a second shot.” (‘For Marine snipers, war is up close and personal’, Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2004)
In nearly two weeks of conflict in Falluja, the unnamed corporal has emerged as the top sniper, with 24 confirmed kills. By comparison, the top Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam killed 103 people in 16 months. "I couldn't have asked to be in a better place," the corporal said. "I just got lucky: to be here at the right time and with the right training."
Others have been less fortunate. As ever, dissident Jo Wilding is all but alone in providing some of the missing detail:
“In the street there’s a man, face down, in a white dishdasha, a small red stain on his back. As we roll him on to the stretcher, my colleague Dave’s hand goes through his chest, through the cavity left by the bullet that entered so neatly through his back and blew his heart out. There’s no weapon in his hand. When we arrive, his sons come out, crying, shouting. ‘He was unarmed,’ they scream. ‘He just went out the gate and they shot him.’ None of them has dared come out since. Nobody had dared come to get his body, horrified, terrified, forced to violate the traditions of treating the body immediately... The people seem to pour out of the houses now in the hope we can escort them safely out of the line of fire, kids, women, men anxiously asking us whether they can all go, or only the women and children.” (Wilding, ‘Eyewitness in Fallujah’, Sunday Herald, April 18, 2004. See also: http://www.wildfirejo.blogspot.com)
The truth of this bloodbath has not been told by our media. The tone says it all: US “contracted civilians”, in fact mercenaries, were “horribly butchered” by insurgents in Falluja while Iraqi civilians were merely “killed” or “caught in crossfire” (ITN Lunchtime News, April 7-10). The taking of Western hostages was “horrific”, “one of the dirtiest tactics of war”, ITN reported the US devastation of Falluja was “fierce fighting”. The media's heavy emphasis on the taking of hostages suggested that even the threat of Westerners dying was considered more important than the actual deaths of Iraqis.
David Aaronovitch, sometime "stand up kinda guy" for Iraqi human rights, was unmoved, writing blandly in the Observer of "the partial chaos of the last fortnight". Blair's refusal to condemn US actions in Falluja was only "disappointing". (‘It's diplomacy, actually’, The Observer, April 18, 2004)
The Independent’s Johann Hari had nothing to say himself on the atrocity, choosing instead to quote a young Iraqi living in London who described US actions as “wildly provocative and wrong". (Hari, ‘Suddenly, all those accumulated doubts hit me. Was I wrong about the war in Iraq?’, The Independent, April 14, 2004)
Hari again quotes polls, this time suggesting “56 per cent of Iraqis say their lives are better than before the war”. Still, no one has thought to ask Iraqis if their lives are better now than before the West began demolishing their country with sanctions in 1990 and war in 1991. Referring to the 1980s, a December 1999 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross noted:
"Iraq boasted one of the most modern infrastructures and highest standards of living in the Middle East", with a "modern, complex health care system" and "sophisticated water-treatment and pumping facilities." (ICRC, 'Iraq: A Decade of Sanctions', December 1999)
According to an Economist Intelligence Unit Country Report, prior to the imposition of sanctions the Iraqi welfare state was "among the most comprehensive and generous in the Arab world". (‘Iraq: Country Report 1995-96’)
Unbeknownst to pollsters, it seems, this was all changed by the 88,500 tons of bombs of Desert Storm, and more than a decade of vicious sanctions.
Some People Just Do Not Matter
It is easy to be fooled by the constant political and media invocations of the Nazi menace - official enemies like Saddam, Qadaffi, Milosevic and Castro are reflexively demonised as "New Hitlers" by Western propaganda. The most appalling feature of Nazi ideology, of course, was the notion of "Untermenschen" -- racially or socially inferior groups who do not matter except insofar as they are an obstacle to the progress of the 'higher races'.
Ironically, it could not be clearer from political and media indifference to our Third World victims, that some similar idea -- rooted in realpolitik rather than racism -- remains deeply entrenched in the Western psyche.
One day after 271 people were massacred in a series of bomb attacks in the Iraqi cities of Kerbala and Baghdad on March 2, the BBC’s News at Six devoted less than 10 seconds to the atrocity. ITN’s 6:30 news did better spending 2 minutes on the attacks. In the same broadcast, more than twice as long, five minutes, was devoted to taped interviews with the late Diana Princess of Wales.
Two days later, the worst slaughter in Iraq since the toppling of Saddam had disappeared from both news channels.
By contrast, the killing of 200 people in Madrid received continuous, impassioned coverage for more than two weeks. On March 12, forgetting the even greater horrors in Iraq just days earlier, ITN’s Bill Neely described the Madrid attacks as “the worst terrorist atrocity since September 11”.
Two days after the Iraq attacks, a Guardian editorial was coolly pragmatic:
“The Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has deflected popular outrage by blaming the American occupiers for the lack of security in Kerbala. But his real message was to cool it and remain united - and so far the Shias are doing just that.” (‘Protect and survive’, Leader, The Guardian, March 4, 2004)
Compare the tone with a leader in the same paper just eight days later:
“It was like a modern version of the gruesome wartime images painted by Goya. A Spanish commuter train torn apart. A headless body lying on its front. A three-year-old child burned from head to foot. Amputated legs and arms scattered on station platforms, pieces of human flesh on the road, mobile phones bleeping on the bodies carted off, the injured weeping helplessly on the pavement...” (‘To die in Madrid’, Leader, The Guardian, March 12, 2004)
There was nothing remotely as impassioned and empathetic as this in response to the even greater atrocities in Baghdad and Kerbala. The Independent’s responses were along similar lines.
In the early evening of March 28, 2003, reports flooded around the world of the killing of 55 (actually 62) civilians in the al-Shula district of Baghdad by a US bomb. Hours later, the BBC’s Newsnight's coverage of the atrocity consisted of a 45-second report by David Sells 16 minutes into the programme - an average of less than one second per death.
We asked Newsnight editor, George Entwistle, about the 45 seconds: "As a current affairs programme we lead on a news story where we think we can add analytical value; i.e., can we take it on? We didn't feel we could add anything", he said. (Interview with David Edwards, March 31, 2003)
Imagine if the 55 reported killed had been British or American civilians.
Other examples abound. The world fell apart when 3,000 people died on September 11, 2001. No one blinked an eye when aid agencies warned that even the threat of bombing imperiled 7.5 million starving Afghans as winter approached, and when US bombing subsequently claimed more than 3,000 civilian lives. In January 2002, the American media analyst, Edward Herman, reported that the first US combat casualty in Afghanistan had received more coverage in the US media than all Afghan casualties combined.
The German ambassador to the Sudan estimated that, deprived of life-saving medicines, "several tens of thousands" of Sudanese had died as a result of Clinton's cruise missile attack on the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in August 1998. Our media knew little and cared less. (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, Routledge, 2003, p.206)
In 1979, when killing by the West's Indonesian allies in East Timor was reaching genocidal levels, there was not one mainstream press article in the New York Times or the Washington Post on the crisis. Amy Goodman reports:
"ABC, NBC and CBS 'Evening News' never mentioned the words East Timor and neither did 'Nightline' or 'MacNeil Lehrer' between 1975, the day of the invasion, except for one comment by Walter Cronkite the day after, saying Indonesia had invaded East Timor - it was a 40 second report - until November 12, 1991." (Amy Goodman, "Exception to the Rulers, Part II," Z Magazine, December 1997)
Most recently, the democratically elected president of Haiti was forced out of the country by a combination of armed thugs and US agents. The media shrugged. They're shrugging still as Aristide's supporters are "brutalised, taken away in custody, disappeared, detained, and killed by illegal forces", while living "on the brink of starvation and in absolute poverty", according to the US National Lawyers Guild.
Returning from Haiti, Attorney Tom Griffin reports (April 12) "hundreds of corpses" dumped by morgues, bodies coming in with "plastic bags over their heads and hands tied behind their backs, piles of corpses burning in fields and pigs eating their flesh".
Who, in our morally crusading media, could give a damn?
On April 11, the Daily Telegraph reported great unease among senior British army commanders in Iraq at the "heavy-handed and disproportionate" military tactics used by US forces, who view Iraqis "as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life... their attitude toward the Iraqis is tragic, it is awful." (‘US tactics condemned by British officers’, Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent, Daily Telegraph, April 11, 2004)
But it is not exceptional. It is the truth, and has always been the truth, of the West's monstrous disregard for the people of Iraq.
David Edwards is the editor of Media Lens, and the author of Burning All Illusions: A Guide to Personal and Political Freedom (South End Press, 1996). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Recent Articles by David Edwards and Media Lens