Tag Archives: Edward Herman

Covering Western foreign policy: the Morning Star versus The Guardian

Covering Western foreign policy: the Morning Star versus The Guardian
by Ian Sinclair
Medium
29 December 2016

Earlier this month the Morning Star newspaper found itself in the middle of a media shitstorm. The trigger was their front page headline about the final stages of the battle of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city: ‘Final liberation of Aleppo is in sight’.

The response from some Labour MPs and liberal commentators was immediate and indignant. ‘Absolute disgrace’, tweeted Tom Blenkinsop MP. ‘All parliamentarians, especially party leaders, should condemn false propaganda as was displayed in the Morning Star. People are being murdered not liberated’, Jess Phillips MP argued. Writing the next day in The Guardian Owen Jones noted ‘Yesterday’s front page of the Morning Star rightly provoked revulsion when it described Aleppo’s fall as a “liberation”’. The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland was similarly critical, as was fellow columnist George Monbiot, who retweeted Jones’s column. Paul Mason, also a regular at The Guardian, went one further tweeting the following challenge: ‘Dear NUJ colleagues at Morning Star: in what world does cheering on a war crime conform to union code of practice? Or any form of socialism?’

(Full disclosure: While I write for the Morning Star, I do not agree with the Morning Star’s front page description of what’s happening in Aleppo. Accordingly, I wrote a letter to the paper stating this, which was published on their letters page — like other letters I’ve recently written critical of their Syria coverage.)

To make sense of this uproar, it is useful to compare the reaction to the Morning Star front page on Aleppo to a recent three-page leading article in The Guardian’s Review section. With the front page of the Review section depicting a very presidential-looking Barack Obama next to the headline ‘Amazing Grace’, The Guardian asked seventeen leading authors to reflect on Obama’s legacy.

Before I consider the writers’ contributions, it’s worth stating some basic facts about the first black president’s time in office. Since 2008 the Obama Administration has bombed seven Muslim-majority countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia), escalating the war in Afghanistan, and massively expanding the secret war in Somalia. In 2012 the New York Times reported that Obama had ‘embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties’ of US drone strikes that ‘in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.’ US counter-terrorism officials insisted this approach is based on simple logic, the New York Times explained: that ‘people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.’ According to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee the 2011 US-NATO bombing of Libya led to ‘political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL [Islamic State] in North Africa’. In Syria, Obama has been carrying out an illegal bombing campaign against Islamic State, and has provided extensive military support to Syrian rebels trying to overthrow the Syrian government, and given a wink and a nod to Saudi Arabia and Qatar to send in arms to, thus playing a key role in escalating and prolonging the conflict.

The Obama Administration has supported Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen, with the Yemen Data Project reporting that one third of Saudi Arabian-led air raids have hit civilian sites such as school buildings, hospitals, markets and mosques. With the US providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition, the war has played a key role in creating a dire humanitarian emergency, with the UN estimating as early as June 2015 that 20 million Yemenis — nearly 80 percent of the population — were in urgent need of food, water and medical aid. More broadly, the Obama administration has offered to sell $115bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia over its eight years in office, making Obama ‘the most enthusiastic arms salesman to Saudi Arabia in American history’, according to Senior Brookings Institution Fellow Bruce Riedel. Turning to the US’s other major regional ally, Obama has protected Israel more times at the United Nations than any other US president, recently agreeing a record $38 billion, 10-year US military aid deal with Israel.

At the tail end of George W Bush’s presidency US Special Forces were deployed in 60 countries. Under Obama today they are deployed in 135 countries — presumably why muckraker Matt Taibbi sees the US presidential race as being about choosing the next ‘imperial administrator’.

At home Obama ‘has waged a war against whistleblowers and official leakers’, according to Spencer Ackerman and Ed Pilkington. ‘On his watch, there have been eight prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act — more than double those under all previous presidents combined.’ In April 2011 more than 250 American legal scholars signed a letter protesting against the Obama Administration’s treatment of Chelsea Manning arguing her ‘degrading and inhumane conditions’ were illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture. Described by some immigration NGOs as the ‘Deporter in Chief’, between 2009 and 2015 the Obama removed more than 2.5 million people through immigration orders. ‘Based on statements so far, Trump’s plan to remove the undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes is similar to what President Obama declared in 2014’, ABC News noted in August 2016. On climate change — an existential threat to humanity — Obama’s actions have been wholly inadequate, with the US turning up at the crunch 2009 Copenhagen climate talks with a paltry offer to make 17 percent reductions in carbon emissions on 2005 levels by 2020 (in comparison the European Union pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent on 1990 levels by 2020). For Peter Brown, Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University polling institute, this obstructionism was further proof Obama was ‘a conservative voice among world leaders’ on climate change.

So, what did the authors commissioned by The Guardian make of Obama’s time in office? ‘Brilliant and understated, urbane, witty, compassionate, composed, Barack Obama is a unique human being’, began Joyce Carol Oates’s contribution. Siri Hustvedt described Obama as ‘an elegant… moderate, morally upright’ black man. ‘Thank you for your grace, your intelligence, your curiosity, your patience, your respect for the constitution, your respect for people who don’t look like you or pray like you’, wrote Attica Locke. Pulitzer Prize winner Marilyn Robinson asserted Obama was ‘a deeply reflective man, an idealist whose ideal America is a process of advance and self-realisation.’ In the most critical piece, Gary Younge inverts reality, arguing Obama’s ‘victories saved the country from… war without end or purpose’. Noting that she opposed Obama’s use of ‘kill lists’, Professor Sarah Churchwell nevertheless felt the Obama family were ‘disciplined, distinguished, serious… there was not a whiff of scandal’. After he leaves office Churchwell hopes Obama will ‘keep fighting’ as he ‘remains a formidable champion to have on our side.’ Ending the contributions Aminatta Forna laments ‘The world will miss Obama. Deeply.’

I could quote many more lines from the contributions, but you get the picture: evidence-free eulogising from supposedly free-thinking, smart individuals whose worship of established power would shame Pravda. Yemen is never mentioned, nor is Pakistan or Somalia. Libya gets one mention — described by Lorrie Moore as something Obama ‘did not entirely succeed at’. Lionel Shriver provides the sole mention of Afghanistan, noting Obama has been ‘slow to get us out of the sinkhole of Afghanistan’. In short, the deadly impact of American military power is largely either ignored or downplayed.

Far from being an outlier, the authors’ shocking support for an American president who has caused the deaths of thousands of men, women and children, and destabilised entire countries, fits well with the Guardian’s broader coverage of the Obama Administration.

For example, a front-page Guardian article penned by Freedland about Obama’s July 2008 speech in Berlin breathlessly reported the then Democratic presidential candidate ‘almost floated into view, walking to the podium on a raised, blue-carpeted runway as if he were somehow, magically, walking on water.’ In January 2011 Guardian columnist Madelaine Bunting argued Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was advancing a US foreign policy with ‘an explicitly feminist agenda’. In April 2015 a Guardian editorial referred to ‘the Obama-esque oath to first do no harm’. A year before Assistant Editor and foreign affairs specialist Simon Tisdall chided Obama for his ‘retreat from attachment to the imperious might, the responsibilities and the ideals that once made America an unrivalled and deserving superpower.’ Tisdall has form — in December 2013 he wrote of the ‘good causes for which western soldiers bravely fought and died’ in Afghanistan. What are these, you ask? Tisdall explains: ‘creating and safeguarding the space for extending women’s rights, human rights in general, universal education and child healthcare.’ World Affairs Editor Julian Borger went one better in July 2012, making the extraordinary claim that the US’s ‘military and civilian assistance’ to Egypt was ‘an investment in Middle East peace.’

On Syria, The Guardian has repeatedly downplayed the US’s extensive intervention in the ongoing war. Shockingly, The Guardian’s report of a July 2016 US airstrike that killed at least 73 Syrian civilians — the majority women and children, according to activists — appeared as a small report at the bottom of page 22. In May 2013 Tisdall provided a perfect case study for Mark Curtis’s concept of basic benevolence — how the ideological system promotes the idea Western foreign policy is driven by high principles and benign intentions — when he asserted Obama ‘cannot count on Russian (or, therefore, Chinese or UN security council) support to fix Syria.’

If, as Professor of Journalism Robert Jensen argues, the role of mainstream journalism in a democratic society is ‘to analyse and critique systems of power to help ordinary people take greater control over our lives’, then large sections of The Guardian’s reporting of the Obama Administration has failed miserably.

But now I am downplaying things: if one seriously considers the level of devastation, death and misery around the world the Obama Administration is responsible for, then The Guardian’s ongoing support for/ignoring/downplaying (pick one) of these crimes becomes nothing less than obscene. But while there were howls of outrage at the Morning Star’s front page on the war in Aleppo, there is a telling silence when it comes to the more subtle pro-US government propaganda pumped out by the far more influential Guardian. The Morning Star’s headline was simply unacceptable to the liberal commentariat. In contrast, The Guardian’s often positive coverage of Obama is considered a legitimate part of the broader media debate.

The difference, of course, is all about politics — who is doing the killing and who is being killed. ‘A propaganda system will consistently portray people abused in enemy states as worthy victims’, argue Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their seminal 1988 book Manufacturing Consent. In contrast ‘those treated with equal or greater severity by its own government or clients will be unworthy. The evidence of worth may be read from the extent and character of attention and indignation.’ And, of course, it’s all about which newspaper is doing the reporting — the small circulation, cash-strapped and generally left-wing Morning Star or the liberal, establishment newspaper that publishes the work of — and pays the salaries of — Jones, Freedland, Monbiot and Mason.

 

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Heathrow, The Guardian and the Propaganda Model

Heathrow, The Guardian and the Propaganda Model
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
25 October 2016

Setting out their Propaganda Model of the Mass Media in 1988, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky explained the media “serve to mobilise support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity” – that is, large multinational corporations. They set out a number of caveats to their model, explaining the media are not a solid monolith. “Where the powerful are in disagreement, there will be a certain amount of tactical judgements on how to attain generally shared aims, reflected in the media debate.” In contrast, “views that challenge fundamental premises… will be excluded from the mass media even when elite controversy over tactics rages fiercely.”

The recent reporting by The Guardian of the on-going debate about the expansion of Heathrow airport is a perfect illustration of the continuing relevance of Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model.

Between Saturday 15 October and Thursday 20 October five news reports appeared in the newspaper about the story. The first report sets the tone – a survey of parliamentary opinion, noting the MPs who are “plotting to undermine the anticipated government approval of the third runway at Heathrow”. The report is anchored around the findings of the Airports Commission led by Sir Howard Davies, a former Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, which backs Heathrow expansion, and whether the expansion of Gatwick airport is a viable alternative. It also explains that the Scottish Government (Scottish National Party), trade unions, business, airlines and many MPs support Heathrow expansion. In opposition are MPs representing constituencies close to Heathrow (though no reason is given for their opposition).

The subsequent reports highlight the cabinet split on the issue and the Labour Party’s support for Heathrow expansion despite the opposition of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. “Our livelihoods depend on the jobs and economic prosperity Heathrow expansion will bring”, explained a letter the Unite union delivered to Downing Street. Issues with noise pollution and local air quality are mentioned.

As the Propaganda Model predicts, driven by a huge intra-aviation industry public relations struggle, The Guardian’s reporting reflects the assumption that airport expansion is needed, and the heated debate about how best to do this – Heathrow or Gatwick? – is extensively covered. Powerful actors such as MPs, business, unions and the commission headed by the pro-business Davies, are given space to put forward their views. All this will come as no surprise to Labour MP Chris Mullin, who said of his time as aviation minister from 1999 to 2001: “I learned two things. First, that the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable. Second, that successive governments have usually given way to them.”

However, as Herman and Chomsky predict, “views that challenge fundamental premises… will be excluded from the mass media even when elite controversy over tactics rages fiercely.” Thus, when it comes to airport expansion, voices concerned about climate change – a global crisis that, if taken seriously, is a direct challenge to the pro-growth, neoliberalism that dominates political thinking in the West – are marginalised.

Yes, climate change is mentioned in The Guardian reporting – in three of the five articles – but its placement and frequency is telling. As Herman and Chomsky argue, the fact awkward information appear in the media “tells us nothing about whether that fact received the attention and context it deserved, whether it was intelligible to the reader or effectively distorted or suppressed”. Climate change is not mentioned in the headlines or the introduction paragraphs – the most paragraph of any news story – of any of the five reports. For example, alongside sections on “the political issues” and “the economic issues”, chief environmental correspondent Damian Carrington is given space to talk about “the environmental issues”, though he chooses to focus on local air and noise pollution. A quote from Greenpeace’s UK Executive Director in the 18 October article saying “a third runway at Heathrow would be an air pollution and carbon timebomb” is relegated to the last sentence of the half page report. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas is also quoted in the 20 October Guardian report – but in the penultimate paragraph.

So, how important is climate change to the debate on airport expansion?

With the first six months of 2016 breaking global temperate records, Professor Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research warned “we are on a crash course” with the 2015 Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperatures to under 2oC “unless we change course very, very fast.” Professor Kevin Anderson, the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, broadly concurs, telling me a few months after Paris that it is “reasonable to say 3-4oC is where we are heading, and probably the upper end of that”. Important point: previously Anderson has said a 4oC temperature increase will be “incompatible with organised global community”. More worrying still: Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, sees climate change “an existential crisis for the human species”.

Aviation is set to make up a quarter of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to Friends of the Earth. Writing in The Guardian’s comment pages, George Monbiot – opposed to all airport expansion in the UK – notes that the Climate Change Act means the UK needs to reduce carbon emissions by a steep 80 percent by 2050. If flights increase at the level Davies’s Commission expects those cuts would have to rise to 85 percent. Alice Larkin, Professor of Climate Science & Energy Policy at the University of Manchester, is clear: “Policy measures aimed at increasing capacity and supporting further growth in air travel such as new runways, particularly within richer nations, are at odds with the Paris Agreement.”

What all this very obviously means is, contrary to The Guardian’s woeful news coverage of the issue, the earth’s climate should be at the centre of the debate on airport expansion in the UK.

As the Green Party’s Rupert Read tweeted recently: “In an age of rising manmade climate chaos, it is ludicrous that the debate is ‘Heathrow or Gatwick’, when what the future needs is: NEITHER.”


Here are links to the five Guardian news reports published on Heathrow between Saturday 15 October and Thursday 20 October (NB the online version of articles are often different to the article that is published in the newspaper):

Saturday 15 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/14/anti-heathrow-mps-plan-undermine-government-third-runway-approval
Monday 17 October 2016:  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/16/heathrow-airport-expansion-third-runway-labour-decision
Tuesday 18 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/oct/17/heathrow-third-runway-close-to-getting-government-green-light
Wednesday 19 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/18/airport-expansion-vote-put-on-hold-for-more-than-a-year-by-theresa-may
Thursday 20 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/19/cameron-aide-said-government-was-exposed-on-heathrow-over-air-quality

The US presidential elections: corporate power vs democracy

The US presidential elections: corporate power vs democracy
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
21 April 2016

With the 24-hour, wall-to-wall soap opera-style coverage, it is easy to get lost in the minutiae of the US presidential primaries. Seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency, Senator Bernie Sanders recently noted “We need to break through the fog of the corporate media, which does everything that they can to keep us entertained without addressing the real issues… they talk about everything under the sun, but not the real issues.”

So what are the real issues when it comes to the US presidential elections?

Discussing the influence of money last year, former US President Jimmy Carter provided much needed clarity: “It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president.”

Comparing polling data with policy outcomes, recent research by conducted by two academics from Princeton University and Northwestern University provides hard evidence to support Carter’s assertion that the US is controlled by a monied elite. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence”, note Professor Martin Gilens and Professor Benjamin Page. “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association” they conclude. However “if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

Professor Thomas Ferguson fleshed out the nefarious relationship between money and US electoral politics in his 1995 book Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems. Many view US politics through the wrong lens, Ferguson argued in 2010, “treating public policy as the result of the will of voters. But, in fact, American political parties are mostly bank accounts.” Ferguson maintains the historical record shows “parties are more accurately analysed as blocs of major investors who coalesce to advance candidates representing their interests.” Importantly, his theory posits that “on all issues affecting the vital interests that major investors have in common, no party competition will take place.” To take just one example, neither of the two main parties reflects the interests of the majority of Americans who have long supported an American national health service, according to repeated polling.

For Edward Herman and David Peterson the US political system is “an unelected dictatorship of money” whereby big business “vets the nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, reducing the options available to US citizens to two candidates, neither of whom can change the foreign or domestic priorities of the imperial US regime.” Hillary Clinton’s conservative, business-friendly presidential candidacy is the perfect illustration of this. The former Secretary of State and her husband Bill Clinton have received $35 million from the financial services, insurance companies and real estate sectors since 2001, including $675,000 from Goldman Sachs for giving three speeches, aswell as the backing of the vast majority of the liberal media.

In contrast, CNN noted in January 2016 that left-leaning social democrat Sanders “has received vastly less media attention than” Clinton, “while his chances of becoming the party’s nominee were largely dismissed by pundits and commentators.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “None of them, except the Morning Star, supported us”, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell explained earlier this year about the British media’s coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to become Labour leader. “Even the liberal left Guardian opposed us and undermined us at every opportunity.”

Like Corbyn’s inspirational grassroots campaign in the UK, Sander’s surging progressive campaign suggests the corporate-controlled political status quo is not invincible, that the popular will of the people can force its way on to the agenda in the right circumstances.

And like Corbyn and the British establishment – remember that a senior serving general threatened a coup should the MP for Islington North become prime minister – Sanders’s growing popularity has, according to commentator Brent Budowsky, put “virtually the entire Washington and Wall Street establishments… in a state of panic.”

Though a victory for Sanders in the race to become the Democratic presidential nominee would be an astonishing moment in US politics, unfortunately it looks like Clinton’s lead is insurmountable. But all is not lost for those who wish to see a more equal and peaceful world. As US historian Howard Zinn once noted “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but ‘who is sitting in’ – and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”

Therefore, with the climate crisis already upon us, Obama having bombed seven nations and talk of another financial crisis over the horizon, win or lose it is imperative that the mobilisation and energy of Sanders’s campaign is expanded and deepened into a sustained mass movement that can successfully challenge corporate power and the dark shadow it casts over US politics.

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.