Congratulations America. The UK and international press is today reporting the execution of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, with an affected solemnity which seems to say “Alas, it is sad that it has come to this, but this is how it had to end.” This approach is perhaps best summed up by the BBC’s John Simpson, who confines criticism of the show-trial which preceded the execution to the following extraordinary understatement: “It proved to be divisive, and certainly did not receive international approval”, before reassuring the reader, in his usual inappropriate verboseness, that “These things will certainly continue to affect the way the world will see Saddam’s death. But now that he has finally been swept off the political chessboard, the Iraqi government hopes that 2007 will be a better year as a result”.
The use of the “chessboard” analogy is appropriate enough in that it potentially provides an unintended insight into the mindset of the reporter himself, and his sympathy with the invading power – perhaps he sees the Iraq situation as a game of chess in which all the key actors need to be physically removed in order to achieve complete conquest. However, let us not forget that this is the very same John Simpson who, in his excitement at entering Kabul alongside the “liberating” forces in 2001 declared that he felt as though he – and the entire BBC – were partaking in the liberation and carrying it out themselves. So Simpson’s childlike enthusiasm for the mechanics of conquest can reasonably be attributed to a personal characteristic, and not necessarily signs of any political sympathy for the invading power, although there is an arguable case that such an outlook, perhaps achieved by many hours as a child spent playing “Risk” or more likely instilled by the detached chauvinism of the British public school system, might preclude objectivity and seriousness in reporting.
Of more serious concern is the obsequious tone of the article, which is quite typical of the reaction of the mainstream media generally. Simpson rather fancies himself as a dramatic storyteller – for although his article is thin on critical thought, there is plenty of unnecessary detail. For example, we are told the approximate time that the execution took place, and we are further advised that this was “just as the call to prayer was sounding across Baghdad”, presumably on the basis that although discussion about the legitimacy of the court merits only a single, dismissive line (see above), it is reasonable to speculate as to the possible religious significance which the pious people of Iraq might wish to attribute to the timing of the execution. The trouble with many mainstream journalists like John Simpson is that they do not credit either the Iraqi people or, for that matter, their own readership, with the intelligence to consider questions of real importance, and instead bury the issues in a haze of Orientalist clichés.
Simpson’s weak conclusion – “the Iraqi government hopes that 2007 will be a better year as a result [of Saddam’s death]” is somewhat revealing. There is, of course, no Iraqi government to speak of, at least not a government whose “hopes”, to the extent that they may differ from those of the US occupying power, are a relevant consideration for any journalist covering the present conflict. The Iraqi government is a proxy government controlled entirely by Washington, and therefore its hopes are Washington’s hopes. What Simpson means to say, therefore, is that “the occupying power, and the Iraqi officialdom to which it has delegated some administrative responsibilities, hopes that 2007 will be a better year as a result of Saddam’s death”. By phrasing his conclusion in the manner in which he has chosen, Simpson is playing along with the charade, which is best summed up by George Bush’s own ludicrous appraisal of the execution as “an important milestone on Iraq’s course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself.”
A truly important milestone might have involved allowing the former dictator to be tried at the international court at the Hague, so that justice could be seen to be done in a neutral venue with respect for the rule of law. This could not be done for the simple reason that it was absolutely necessary for the US to control this trial. That the US armed Saddam to the teeth in the 1980s is reasonably common knowledge, but the notion that a court could peruse, in detail before the eyes of the world’s media over a period of months and possibly years, a chronology of US and European support for the dictator, including shipments of the very gases used in chemical attacks against civilian and military targets even after the notorious Halabja massacre – this notion simply does not bear thinking about for the US planners. Amid much sanctimonious talk, from politicians and journalists, of “holding people to account”, the reality is that the people ultimately responsible for the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein will probably never be held to account. And this is of course not an accident, but the very purpose behind the show trial with which the US “convicted” their former agent Saddam Hussein.
The most appalling aspect of the news coverage of this event is the way in which the journalists have simply internalised the government position, as with John Simpson’s understated reference to the international outcry over the show-trial as some sort of unfortunate minor inconvenience, and the astonishingly inane conclusion that those in power will hope that next year is better than this year. When the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died earlier this month, it was noticeable that most mainstream UK media referred to him principally as “the former ruler of Chile”, i.e. not “the former dictator of Chile”. That man, a dictator, a mass murderer, a torturer, a rapist, a mutilator, was of course on our side, in that he was installed and supported by the US and a fervent ally of Margaret Thatcher. So even long after the end of his rule and long after the premierships of Reagan and Thatcher had ended, he is nevertheless referred to euphemistically by an obliging media, much as Saddam would have been in the 1980s when he was doing the bidding of the United States. The same can be said today of the Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf, a staunch supporter of the United States, who is generally referred to simply as a “President.” Saddam, of course, is quite correctly identified as a “dictator” at almost every opportunity. By playing its part so obligingly, the mainstream media is nothing less than a knowing accessory to government policy, so that as unelected leaders and corrupt regimes sympathetic to the United States will continue to go about their business without serious challenge, the foundations are laid for future conflicts throughout the world – a highly beneficial outcome for the armaments industry that is so heavily influential in Washington, but an outcome nonetheless which leaves Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki open to accusations of insincerity, or at the very least incredibly naïve optimism, when he asserts that “Saddam’s execution puts an end to all the pathetic gambles on a return to dictatorship.”
Nathaniel Mehr writes for http://www.iShotTheDeputy.com
John Simpson’s article in full is available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6218675.stm
For more on the arming of Iraq in the 1980s see http://www.ishotthedeputy.com/?q=node/528