As In These Times went to press, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were appearing together behind closed doors before the 9⁄11 Commission. Apparently, the powers that be in the administration do not trust Bush to speak without a handler present, and they want to ensure that all prevarications are coordinated. Bush and Cheney will further evade public accountability, as the commission has complied with their demands that the “testimony” be secret, not given under oath and not recorded.
So, which of their many lies do Bush and Cheney plan to tell? The most immediate involves the administration’s rush to link the 9⁄11 attack to Saddam Hussein.
After all, this secret testimony occurs at the end of the deadliest month — 125 American killed and counting — in the 13-month war. The tragic consequences of that war are exemplified in what ABC News bills as “Showdown Fight for Falluja.” The Pentagon’s code name for its operation is “Vigilant Resolve.” “Vietnam Reprise” is more like it.
Most recent news reports date the showdown to March 31, when four U.S. security contractors were killed and mutilated by a Falluja mob. But the real troubles began on April 28, 2003, when members of the 82nd Airborne Division opened fire on a crowd of 200 demonstrators, killing 17 and wounding 70. The Pentagon claims the soldiers were fired on by the crowd, but according to Human Rights Watch, which has conducted a detailed investigation of the massacre, none of the demonstrators was armed.
The 82nd Airborne is a rapid shock assault force that was in Afghanistan tracking down the Taliban and had not been trained in peacekeeping. “Critics of the division, including soldiers attached to it, describe them as ‘ruffians who get the job done,’ ” reported the London Observer’s Peter Beaumont. Visiting the office of a powerful Falluja sheik, he found it vandalized by soldiers of the 82nd Airborne “who carved ‘Fuck You’ into his office door, and slashed and smashed sofas, pictures and windows.”
In effect, it was the same message the Bush administration gave to U.N. calls “to tread carefully” in Falluja. The U.N.’s representative in Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, has described the U.S. attacks on Falluja as “collective punishment.” He explained to ABC News: “You know, when you surround a city, you bomb the city, when people cannot go to hospital, what name do you have for that?”
A more blunt assessment of Falluja, where a municipal sports ground has been turned into a cemetery for the hundreds of civilians killed in April, comes from the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. “The ethical dilemmas in Israel over the targeted killings must make the American government laugh. After Falluja, Israel Defense Forces commanders can feel easier with their consciences,” writes Orit Shohat. “During the first two weeks of [April], the American army committed war crimes in Falluja on a scale unprecedented in this war.”
According to Shohat, the only U.S. victory in Falluja has been the expulsion of Al Jazeera “not because they report lies, but because they are virtually the only ones who manage to report the truth. The Bush administration, in cooperation with the American media, is trying to hide the sights of war from the world, and particularly from American voters.”
Proof that this is indeed the case, came the same day Bush and Cheney were spinning their tales to the 9⁄11 Commission. The Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose stations reach one-quarter of the American public, announced that it’s eight ABC stations would not broadcast the April 30 edition of “Nightline” that features the faces of the 533 American men and women killed in Iraq as Ted Koppel reads their names. “Nightline,” the Sinclair Broadcast Group explains, “appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.” What motivates the executives at Sinclair Broadcast Group? They are helping their friends. Since 2000, the company has contributed $16,000 in soft money and $120,000 in hard money to Bush and his allies.
Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.