Monthly Archives: December 2014

Defending the Green Party from Richard Seymour’s Darth Vader shtick

Defending the Green Party from Richard Seymour’s Darth Vader shtick
by Ian Sinclair
29 December 2014

Since January 2014 The Green Party of England and Wales has more than doubled its membership to over 30,000 and is now regularly polling above the Liberal Democrats. The party received over one million votes in the 2014 European elections gaining three MEPs and beating the Liberal Democrats, and came third in the 2012 London mayoral elections behind the Tories and Labour.

For a party campaigning in a political landscape where political party membership is plummeting, with relatively little financial backing and media exposure, these are impressive results, I think many would agree. The kind of results that would suggest the overall Green Party strategy is working. The British writer Richard Seymour, who runs the Lenin’s Tomb blog, strongly disagrees. “The problem with the Green party is that it is too nice”, Seymour explained in a recent Guardian Comment is Free blog. “They don’t hate, and if left-wing politics in this country needs anything it is a dose of rigorous hatred.” Perhaps excited by the recently released trailer for the new Star Wars film, Seymour ends his blog paraphrasing Darth Vader: “If they genuinely want to get ahead, they need to discover their dark side.”

Initially, I thought Seymour’s piece wasn’t entirely serious. However, a quick look at his tweets in defence of the blog show he was, indeed, being serious. For example, he bafflingly explained to one challenger that “any real compassion and concern must logically entail a rigorous hatred.”

Before I get into the detail of Seymour’s blog I think it’s important to take a step back and ask ourselves whether we want to encourage a politics based on “hate”? Call me naïve, but I presumed that all progressives, all Leftists, would think such a suggestion to be morally repugnant, practically dangerous and completely the opposite of what should be done.

To begin, it’s worth pointing out the inaccuracies in Seymour’s argument.

According to Seymour the Green Party is “not prepared to get their hands dirty, too committed to the niceties of parliamentary politics.” In reality Green representatives are often very active outside parliament. Caroline Lucas MP was arrested at a protest against fracking in August 2013. Jenny Jones, the Green Party peer in the House of Lords, was arrested at an Occupy protest in October 2014. This direct action follows a long tradition of Green politicians working both inside and outside of electoral politics to push for progressive change. For example, Derek Wall, a prominent member of the Green Party, is a strong supporter of direct action.

Seymour goes on to argue:

“It is excellent, but not enough, for the Greens to say they won’t scapegoat immigrants and other folk-devils. If immigrants aren’t to blame, then we need to know who is to blame. Left-populist movements in Europe that succeed tend to know who the enemy is, and name it. For Syriza it is the troika; for Podemos, it is la casta or the caste, their term for the parliamentary elites, businessmen, media elites and bankers who dominate Spanish society.”

Perhaps Seymour hasn’t been paying attention but recent media appearances suggest the Green Party is very clear about “who is to blame” for the crisis we find ourselves in:

  • ‘Stop attacks on welfare benefits and tackle bankers’ bonuses’ – Headline, Green Party website, February 2010
  • “This legacy was not a result of Government spending, it was the result of the banks very nearly crashing and going down and us having to rescue the banks. And that is why we have to look at dealing with the banks.” – Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party, BBC Question Time, April 2013
  • “We have a chronic housing shortage, we have an NHS under strain, we have a culture of low pay. But the fault of that lies with the government not with migrants.” – Caroline Lucas MP, BBC Question Time, May 2014
  • “Well I think there’s an awful lot of disillusioned voters out there, whether they’re Lib Dems who thought they were voting for a freeze on tuition fees, or indeed Lib Dems who thought they were voting against nuclear weapons and nuclear power, to Labour people who just are really fed up with a Labour Party that isn’t prepared to stand up to the bankers, to stand up to the multinational companies.” – Natalie Bennett, Left Foot Forward, May 2014
  • He’s [George Osborne] made the disabled, the ill, the disadvantaged and the young pay for the errors and fraud of the bankers for which they bear no responsibility at all.” – Natalie Bennett, Huffington Post, 3 December 2014

Seymour also argues the Greens have achieved a rise in popularity “while maintaining some unfashionable stances”, citing – without any evidence – “local bigotry against Travellers” in Brighton and national public opinion on immigration. In reality, as I’ve argued elsewhere, many of the Green Party’s major policy positions have majority support among the general public. This is confirmed by the website Vote For Policies, which shows the Green Party’s policies are the most popular out of all the parties when people choose blindly without knowing the political party they are connected to. These hopeful results are supported by the recent YouGov/Times poll which found that 26% of voters would vote Green if they “had a chance of winning” – making the Green Party the third most popular party under these conditions.

What these two polls suggest is that two of the key problems the Green Party has are the media landscape and the electoral system we have in the UK – both of which Seymour fails to mention, let alone grapple with.

On the electoral system, it’s widely understood – and made plain by the YouGov/Times poll – that the UK’s first past the post general voting system tends to disadvantage smaller parties. In contrast, Spain’s Podemos and Greece’s Syriza have become popular in nations where general elections are held under forms of proportional representation. Turning to the media, The Guardian’s Zoe Williams has noted, the Green Party tend to receive very little media coverage – especially compared to UKIP. This defacto media blackout was recently taken to a mind-boggling extreme when the BBC Daily Politics programme showed viewers a poll that excluded the Green Party even though they polled more than the Liberal Democrats, who were included in the poll.

Finally, there is a third problem for the Greens that is rarely discussed – again not mentioned by Seymour: the Left itself seems to have a blind spot for the party, as I discussed here. For example, I am not aware of any mention of the Green Party in Seymour’s impressive new book Against Austerity: How We Can Fix the Crisis They Made, even though they are the only party of the five largest nationwide parties who are opposed to austerity.

Of course, no one knows whether the Green surge will continue. And if it does no doubt a number of factors will have caused it. But what we can say is the evidence above suggests Greens would do well to take Seymour’s diagnosis, prognosis and prescription with a large dose of salt.

Yusef Sarwar got 12 years in prison. What about William Hague?

Yusef Sarwar got 12 years in prison. What about William Hague?
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
16 December 2014

Has there ever been such an obvious case of government hypocrisy that has been so completely ignored by the media?

On 5 December 2014 Yusef Sarwar, a 22-year old man from Birmingham, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for travelling to Syria to fight with a jihadist group against the Syrian Government.

When she found out where her son had gone, Yusef’s mother, Majida Sarwar, contacted the police. They apparently told her they would help get her son home. According to the Observer Yusef only spent a few weeks in Syria, before returning to the UK in January 2014, where he was immediately arrested at Heathrow Airport.

Majida has been speaking out strongly against the harsh sentencing of her son, comparing his treatment to the progressive, and it would seem more effective, rehabilitation of returning jihadists to Denmark. Speaking to The Observer she noted “When the Queen’s son went to Afghanistan to fight he was patted on the back. Our sons are going out for a cause that the British government also supports, they support the rebels fighting in Syria, he is sent to jail for 12 years.”

With this one utterance Majida completely shamed our supposedly free and critical media and all the professional and often highly educated journalists and commentators who work within it. Where in the endless newspaper columns and television news reports about Syria have you seen such a bold declaration of the truth? Whether she knows it or not, by pointing to Prince Harry fighting and killing the Taliban – most of whom are poor, local men from farming families – Majida crossed a red line that most career-minded journalists steer well clear of.

Most revealing is Majida’s reference to the inconvenient fact the British Government have themselves been supporting the Syrian rebels.

In March 2013 The Guardian explained US, UK and French personnel were training Syrian rebels in Jordan. According to the report “UK intelligence teams are giving the rebels logistical and other advice in some form.” Relatively small in scale, the training programme is likely run from the joint operations room in Amman staffed by the eleven countries including the US, Saudi Arabia, France and the UK, according to the Wall Street Journal. Six months later the New York Times confirmed the UK’s support for the armed insurgency, reporting “Saudi Arabia, quietly cooperating with American and British intelligence and other Arab governments, has modestly increased deliveries of weapons to rebels fighting in southern Syria”. This cooperation with Saudi Arabia is covert, the New York Times explained, because “American and British intelligence and Arab Governments… do not want their support publicly known”.

Since 2012 the United Nations has recorded widespread human rights violations by the Syrian armed opposition including extrajudicial executions, torture, the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas and the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (which, let’s not forget, if you decided to plant in Afghanistan, might have got you killed by Prince Harry in his Apache helicopter). The UK-backed Free Syrian Army has used car bombs, with numerous reports noting it has often joined forces with the Al-Nusra Front, a branch of Al-Qaeda.

To summarise, the British Government has locked up a man for going to fight with the rebels in Syria. At the same time the British Government is continuing to provide training and support to the Syrian rebels, many of whom will have been involved human rights abuses and acts we would call ‘terrorism’ if they were perpetrated in Britain. As with many political questions, US dissident Noam Chomsky hits the nail on the head in his re-telling of the story of a captured pirate brought before Alexander the Great. “How dare you molest the sea?” demands Alexander. “How dare you molest the whole world?” the pirate replies, continuing: “Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor.” So, if Yusef got 12 years in prison, what sentence does former Foreign Secretary William Hague, who oversaw the UK’s support for the rebels and therefore contributed to the militarisation, escalation and lengthening of the conflict – exactly the kind of conditions that encourage violent jihadists to travel to Syria – deserve?

If we had a genuinely investigative and critical media, Majida would have simply been stating well known facts and arguments. Instead, as there has been vanishingly little media coverage of the UK’s role in supporting the armed insurgency in Syria, Majida’s statement is extraordinary. Journalists would be well to sit up and take notice of what truth-telling actually looks like.

Was marching on 15 February 2003 a waste of time?

Was marching on 15 February 2003 a waste of time?
by Ian Sinclair
20 December 2014

Was it a waste of time marching on 15 February 2003? Did the march have no effect on British politics? Many people believe so. This account from Maajid Nawaz of speaking to a bomb-maker in an Egyptian prison suggests the march had one very important, far-reaching influence:

‘So when I was in prison in Egypt as a political prisoner there… one of the things I did was have a conversation with a convicted, professional bomb-maker… He was from Dagestan. He came to Egypt to train Egyptians to cross the border into the Gaza Strip to train Palestinians to kill Israelis. He was caught, thankfully, and he was put in prison. The conversation I had with him was after the mass protest movement in Britain against the [2003] Iraq War. I said to him the following, I said “Look, the majority of these people protesting – first of all the largest protest against the Iraq War wasn’t in Pakistan, it wasn’t in Saudi Arabia, it wasn’t in Turkey, it was in Britain, this country you want to blow up. Second fact, most of the protesters were non-Muslims. So what does that tell you about the people you define as your enemy? In fact, Turkey is a member of NATO that is part of this alliance, so surely you should be trying to blow-up Turkish Muslims instead of the Brits who are opposed to the Iraq War.” First of all I got a look from him that kind of told me he wanted to kill me. That conversation lasted over a couple of weeks and one day I was in my cell and he came knocking on the door and he said “Maajid you know I’ve been thinking”. This is a guy who knows how to make bombs and kill people. He says “You know I’ve been thinking” because we had a lengthy conversation about it. He said “You are right”. After seeing the photographs I showed him from the newspapers of the mass protests against the Iraq War, he said “You are right, these people aren’t my enemy”. He was still a terrorist, he was still an Islamist, he was still an extremist, but he no longer believed in targeting Britain.’ – Maajid Nawaz, former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir and co-founder and Executive Director of Quilliam, Overtime with Bill Maher, October 25, 2013

This account concurs with an interview Moazzam Begg gave in 2008 about being a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay:

‘The Stop the War movement has become a buffer between people who may want to carry out acts of violence on innocent Westerners, and the government itself that does carry out acts of violence against people in the Middle East. I had a conversation with the only self-described member of Al Qaida I’ve met, in Guantanamo. He said that people in the West are not innocent because they vote in their leaders and therefore must share part of the blame. I explained that most people vote on domestic issues like the health service and roads. I said that you’ll probably find a great number of them don’t support the war, but when you strike you don’t discriminate. Then he started thinking about it a little bit. The Stop the War movement is a buffer which helps prevent terrorism in a way that the government would never conceive; when they see people demonstrating against the war it helps to pacify some of the radical elements who would otherwise have said, “They’re all the same – go and bomb the whole lot of them.”’

Breaking the silence: Meat and climate change

Breaking the silence: Meat and climate change
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
18 December 2014

It’s an unusual departure for a think-tank used to discussing regional conflict and international diplomacy but Chatham House’s new report on livestock farming and climate change is hugely important.

The research paper notes that the consumption of meat and dairy produce is a major driver of climate change. With the global livestock industry producing more carbon emissions than all planes, trains, automobiles and ships combined “curbing the world’s appetite for meat is essential to avoid devastating climate change”, The Guardian summarised.

The study comes on the back of a plethora of recent research and expert testimony linking meat-eating, especially beef, with the on-going climate crisis, including the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Nature science journal and the Sustainable Consumption Institute at Manchester University. “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases”, explained Lord Stern, the author of the seminal Stern Report on climate change, in 2009. “It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”

Taking Stern’s advice and moving towards a vegetarian or, better still, a vegan diet, is what might be called a win-win-win situation – as well as helping the climate it would improve human health and mean less animals are slaughtered with all the horror this brings. “Diets high in animal products are associated with an increased risk of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and several forms of cancer”, notes Chatham House. Since 2007 the World Cancer Research Fund has recommended that people do not eat any processed meat because of the link with a number of cancers.

Quoting a recent review of the academic literature, Chatham House goes on to explain that mostly plant-based diets with little processed foods are “decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention”. For example, research from Loma Linda University in California tracking 73,000 thousand people for almost six years found vegetarians tended to live longer than meat-eaters and were less likely to get heart disease. Compiling data from 18 academic papers, the Nature journal article also notes that relative to conventional omnivorous diets, a vegetarian diet was linked to a 20 percent reduction in heart disease, as well as a 41 percent reduction in Type 2 diabetes.

Considering all this evidence, governments have had very little to say about the issue. Chatham House argues they may be concerned about the public backlash that might come from attempts to interfere in people’s diets and home lives. Frustratingly, the green movement has also been relatively quiet about linking diet and climate change, with little attempt to promote vegetarianism or veganism as viable responses. “I think they focussed grouped it and it’s a political loser”, the US food journalist Michael Pollan, speaking in the new documentary Cowspiracy, says about environmental NGOs. “They’re membership organisations… they are looking to maximise the number of people making contributions and if they get identified as being anti-meat or challenging people on their everyday habits, something that is so dear to people, it will hurt with their fundraising.” Corporate power is also a powerful block on radical change. In a 2010 lecture Samuel Jutzi, Director of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), warned: “I have now been 20 years in a multilateral organisation which tries to develop guidance and codes for good agricultural practice, but the real, true issues are not being addressed by the political process because of the influence of lobbyists, of the true powerful entities”. Speaking about the publication of the major 2006 FAO report on livestock’s responsibility for nearly one-third of global emissions, he told the audience “You wouldn’t believe how much we were attacked”.

While governments and the green movement have been acquiescing there has been a large increase in global meat consumption – especially in countries such as China and Brazil. But we shouldn’t be downhearted. Change is possible, with studies showing many people in the West have been reducing their consumption of meat, and red meat specifically, for both health and environmental reasons. Indeed, food is the one issue that we get to vote on every day. Three times a day, in fact.

With the IPCC recently warning climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” unless emissions are cut rapidly and sharply, it is imperative that we start talking about food right now. Because if you care about the wellbeing of the planet and everyone and everything on it then you need to ask whether your diet is part of the solution, or part of the problem.

Interview with Nils Oberg, Director-General of Sweden’s Prison Service

Interview with Nils Oberg, Director-General of Sweden’s Prison Service
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
5 December 2014

“I am very reluctant on giving anyone advice on how they construct their criminal policies”, Nils Öberg says.

This humble attitude, though polite, masks the fact Öberg, the Director-General of Sweden’s Prison and Probation Service, has much to teach the UK about crime and punishment. Indeed, the expertise he has gained from running one of the most progressive prison systems on the planet is the reason he gave the annual Longford Trust lecture on penal reform in London last week.

Talking to me before the lecture, Öberg, 54, explains that Sweden’s prison population has been falling since 2004, to around 5,500 prisoners today, including those held on remand. This translates to about 57 prisoners per 100,000 people – one of the lowest rates in Europe. With their prison population falling 6 percent this year Sweden has been able to close four of their 56 prisons. In contrast, as of October 2014 England and Wales had over 85,000 people behind bars – around 149 prisoners per 100,000 people, one of the highest rates in Europe. In his recent annual report the chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales highlighted a shocking 69 percent rise in prison suicides in a system characterised by overcrowding, rising violence and worsening safety.

How does Öberg explain the significant reduction in prison numbers in Sweden? “We have a couple of educated guesses and hypotheses”, he replies. First, he notes the courts have for a number of years been giving out more lenient sentences, particularly for drug related offences. This follows a 2011 decision by Sweden’s Supreme Court which reduced sentences for serious drug offences, such as drug smuggling. “So that, in combination, would mean the total prison years will shrink as a result of more lenient sentencing”, he says. He also thinks that the recent reorganisation of the police force from 21 independent local forces into one national force may well have affected the efficiency of its criminal investigations and therefore level of convictions. Finally, he hopes the prison service’s investment in rehabilitation has helped to reduce reoffending. The rate of reoffending in Sweden currently stands between 30 – 40 percent after three years – again, one of the lowest rates in Europe.

“The prison sentence is the punishment”, Öberg explains. “We don’t see our role and purpose to punish while the clients and inmates are with us. Our prime purpose is to prepare them for reintegration into society as best we can.” He continues: “We try to keep our focus on addressing all the various issues that our inmates and clients bring with them”. These range from “a very loose connection to the job market to very serious health problems or mental health problems, or broken social relations in general, drug addiction or substance abuse.”

Researching the topic before the interview, I am struck by the relative comfort that prisoners seem to experience in Swedish prisons. Newspapers would be screaming “prison is like a holiday camp!” if similar conditions existed in the UK. Öberg has little time for this argument: “Anyone who holds that view doesn’t know very much about what it is like to be in prison. Anybody in the profession, wherever you are in the world, will know the human cost of incarceration.” Part of blame for the public’s ignorance lies with the prison service itself, he believes: “It perhaps reflects our own inability to educate the public on what we are actually doing and what it is like to be relieved of your freedom for a shorter or longer period of time.”

Öberg’s unwillingness to blame others is also evident in his thoughts on the role of the media. I tell him that significant sections of the British press arguably play an unhelpful role in the politics of criminal justice, amplifying the public’s fear of crime and often pushing for harsher sentencing. For example, the Prison Reform Trust’s latest briefing notes that 45 percent of crimes reported in newspapers in the UK involve sex or violence, compared with only 3 percent of actual reported crime. “I don’t recognise that description”, he replies. He’s referring to Sweden, though his answer applies beyond his country’s border. “Everywhere you go you have cases of violent crimes and tragic stories about victims of crime who have suffered tremendously from the crimes beings committed, but that’s just a reality in any society. That’s the problem. Media’s not the problem.”

However, he does note one significant difference between the Swedish and UK media. “There is a self-censorship in our media when it comes to children. So a child that will have committed a serious crime, the moment the media realises the story is about somebody underage that story goes cold and will not be published for obvious reasons.” It may be obvious to Öberg but one need only think of the endless and lurid press coverage of children who have committed crimes in the UK to realise just how far apart our two nations are on this issue. Sweden’s unofficial agreement is no doubt helped by the fact their age of criminal responsibility is 15 – one of the highest in Europe. In England and Wales it is 10 – one of the lowest in Europe (do you see a pattern emerging yet?). According to The Guardian’s prison correspondent Erwin James, in the UK a life sentence can be handed down to a 10-year old, while in Sweden no one under the age of 21 can be sentenced to life.

Another key difference between our two countries, Öberg explains in his lecture, is there is very little overt political interference in the running of the Swedish prison and probation service. Öberg notes, for example, that criminal justice was not part of the political debate during the recent general elections in Sweden.

Throughout the lecture it’s refreshing to hear Öberg repeatedly refer to pragmatic policies which are based on scientific evidence. Compare this, again, to the press-infused, evidence-free political debate in this country with Labour and the Tories trying to outdo each other on being tougher on crime and criminals. Underpinning this unedifying political spectacle is the assumption that toughness is synonymous with effectiveness. Sweden’s liberal prison service shows this popular canard up for the lie it is. As writer Johann Hari wrote over ten years ago: “The choice is not between ‘tough’ and ‘soft’ it is between effective and useless. ‘Tough’ policies – put them in an empty cell and leave them to rot and rape each other – just don’t work. It is not those of us who want rehabilitation who are betraying the mugged grannies and the burgled primary schools – it is the [Michael] Howards and the [David] Blunketts, who choose facile posturing over policies that actually work.”

Book review: This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein

Book review: This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
December 2014

With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warning that global warming is on course to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on the planet, Naomi Klein’s new book couldn’t be more timely or important.

To make the necessary reduction in carbon emissions, Klein explains the world need to institute immediate, transformational change on the scale of the American New Deal of the 1930s or the national mobilisations during World War Two. Unfortunately, historical chance means our realisation about the dangers of global warming has coincided with the crowning of unregulated capitalism as the reigning economic paradigm. Built on economic growth, extractive ideology and relentless consumption “the culture that triumphed in our corporate age pits us against the natural world”, Klein argues.

She is hopeful that there is still time to stop the worst effects of global warming but argues that this will involve “challenging the fundamental logic of deregulated capitalism”. Interestingly, she notes the corporate-sponsored climate denier think tanks and pundits understand the real significance of climate change much more than liberal centrists who accept the scientific consensus. So while the latter naively believe “the response can be gradual and painless and that we don’t need to go to war with anybody, including the fossil fuel companies” the former realise, correctly, “if climate justice carries the day, the economic costs to our elites will be real”.

Klein’s introduction arguing that climate change is an “existential crisis for the human species” will certainly frighten readers but the sections on possible solutions are far more positive and inviting. She argues that as part of the project to reduce emissions we “have the chance to advance policies that dramatically improve lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create huge numbers of good jobs, and reinvigorate democracy from the ground up.” She doesn’t mention it but this argument fits neatly with the UK’s ‘one million climate jobs’ campaign (PN 2545).

How do we get from the inaction of the present to a safer future? Klein is keen to highlight that the answer doesn’t lie in green organisations working with big business, with millionaire philanthropists or the techno fix of geo-engineering. Rather she argues “only mass social movements can save us now.” What she calls “Blockadia” has caught her attention – the global, increasingly interconnected resistance to extractive projects like fracking and mountain top removal coal-mining. She writes about local grassroots campaigns battling corporate behemoths around the world, though she is naturally most at home discussing the burgeoning opposition in her native North America, in particular against the Canadian tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline, in which indigenous groups have played a leading role.

Like Klein’s previous books No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, This Change Everything is set to become an era-defining manifesto. This is journalism at its very best – cogently argued and clearly written, making complex issues accessible to the general reader. It’s a big book in every sense, channelling a huge amount of information (there are 57 pages of detailed footnotes). It’s hard going at times, though Klein does her best to keep things fresh and interesting.

Klein has said the book “is not written for the environment movement” but “for people who would never read a book about climate change but are engaged with economic justice of other kinds.” As this quote and the book’s title suggests, global warming changes everything in terms of activism, with Klein arguing it should become the issue that unites all the other activist campaigns.

Peace News favourite George Lakey understands this, telling me a couple of years ago that his main concern today is climate change “because it is so overarching – if we don’t solve that one there is a whole lot else we won’t get much space to work with. We will be on such a survival level. It will be very, very tough.”

Falluja: The BBC’s Paul Wood covers up US war crimes

Falluja: The BBC’s Paul Wood covers up US war crimes
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
1 December 2014

“The truth”, US Historian Howard Zinn once wrote, “is so often the reverse of what has been told us by our culture that we cannot turn our heads far enough around to see it.”

A recent article by the BBC’s Paul Wood titled Iraq’s Hardest Fight: The US Battle For Falluja 2004 perfectly illustrates Zinn’s truism. Wood, an award-winning foreign correspondent, was writing about the tenth anniversary of the US assault on Falluja, when he had been embedded with US Marines attacking the Iraqi city.

For Wood the story begins on 31 March 2004, when four US private security contractors were ambushed in the centre of the city, killed, burned and strung up from a bridge. In response the US launched their first attack in April 2004, killing approximately 800 people, including around 300 women and children, before they were ordered to pull back in the face of protests across Iraq and the world. What Wood doesn’t mention is tensions in the city had been running high since April 2003 when US soldiers killed 17 protestors during a demonstration about US soldiers being stationed in a school. In the days before the lynching of the private security contractors the US military had conducted a “sweep” through the city. During this operation, The Observer noted at least six Iraqi civilians were killed, including an 11-year old boy.

Speaking about the aftermath of the first US attack, Wood repeats the official narrative of the US military, noting “Falluja became a safe haven for al-Qaeda”. In contrast, Fadhil Badrani, an Iraqi journalist and resident of Falluja who reported regularly for Reuters, wrote an article for the BBC News website in which he noted “I am not aware of any foreign fighters in Falluja.”

Turning to the second US assault in November 2004, Wood makes the most audacious and inaccurate statement I’ve ever seen made by a professional journalist: “Most of the people had left Falluja… the image of a city packed with non-combatants being pounded with artillery and white phosphorus was wrong.”

In reality, when the US attack began on 8 November 2004 the American Forces Press Service reported that out of a total population of 300,000 “officials estimate that between 50,000 and 60,000 people are left in the city”. According to the New York Times, just before the US forces moved into Falluja “heavy artillery could be heard pounding positions in or near the city every few minutes. An entire apartment complex was ground to rubble. A train station was obliterated in a hail of 2,000-pound bombs [delivered from US warplanes].” The Washington Post reported the US military used white phosphorus during the fighting, a fact confirmed by a 2005 edition of Field Artillery magazine, the official publication of the United States Army Field Artillery Corps.

While Wood’s words are a despicable example of a journalist echoing US propaganda, arguably it is what he chooses not to mention that is most shocking.

Contemporary news reports and subsequent commentary confirm the US committed a number of war crimes in Falluja. Prior to the attack, the Washington Post reported that US forces cut off Falluja’s water and electricity supply. This contravened the Geneva Conventions which states the “starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited” and led to predictable results. Rasoul Ibrahim, who fled the fighting, said “there’s no water. People are drinking dirty water. Children are dying.”

The New York Times reported that within an hour of the start of the ground attack, US troops seized the Fallujah General Hospital: “Patients and hospital employees were rushed out of rooms by armed soldiers and ordered to sit or lie on the floor while troops tied their hands behind their backs”. Quoting an Iraqi doctor, The Independent reported a US air strike destroyed an emergency clinic killing 20 doctors. The Geneva Conventions state that medical establishments “may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.”

US forces blocked aid convoys from reaching Falluja, only letting them enter after five days of fighting. “From a humanitarian point of view, it is a disaster, there is no other way to describe it,” Firdoos al-Ubaidi, from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, said on 10 November 2004. “We have asked for permission from the Americans to go into the city and help the people there but we haven’t heard anything back from them.” At the same time they were stopping help getting to the city, US forces were preventing military aged males from leaving. “Hundreds of men trying to flee the assault on Fallujah have been turned back by US troops following orders to allow only women, children and the elderly to leave”, the Associated Press reported. James Ross, Senior Legal Advisor to Human Rights Watch, said that returning unarmed men to the war zone “would be a war crime.”

Those unable to escape Falluja had to contend with US forces implementing “a strict night-time shoot-to-kill curfew” with “anyone spotted in the soldiers’ night vision sights… shot”, according to The Times. Patrick Cockburn, the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent: “US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops.”

The outcome of this unrestrained violence was 800 dead in the first week of fighting, according to one Red Cross official. In January 2005, the director of the main hospital told the UN Integrated Regional Information Network that 700 bodies – including 550 women and children – had been recovered from just a third of the city’s neighbourhoods. Local authorities said about 60 percent of all houses in the city were totally destroyed or seriously damaged while the Falluja Compensation Committee reported that 9,000 shops, 65 mosques, 60 schools and a heritage library had been demolished. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.

In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War US academic Edward Herman penned his seminal essay The Banality Of Evil about the normalisation of “ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts”. According to Herman “there is usually a division of labour in doing and rationalising the unthinkable, with the direct brutalising and killing done by one set of individuals”, while “it is the function of the experts, and the mainstream media, to normalise the unthinkable for the general public.”

We in the West should be deeply ashamed and angry about what our armed forces did to Falluja in 2004 – described as “our Guernica” by The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele and independent journalist Dahr Jamail. Instead what we get is Wood’s embedded puff piece complete with a sub-heading referring to when “US troops and coalition forces fought their deadliest battle since the Vietnam War” (my emphasis added).

If Emily Thornberry MP has to step down form the shadow cabinet for tweeting a photo of a house decked out with English flags, then Wood should definitely go for his callous whitewashing of US war crimes in Iraq.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He tweets @IanJSinclair.