John Pilger’s documentary “The War you don’t see” is an indictment of our societies in the US and Britain, countries whose military has committed war crimes in the Middle East and around the world. WikiLeaks has revealed such crimes. For this reason, their publisher Julian Assange finds himself incarcerated in a maximum security prison HMP Belmarsh in London at the behest of United Stated of America. In the context of John Pilger’s documentary, Writer Jan Wolf interviews lecturer in Sociology and member of the Steering Committee of the Stop The War Coalition Sami Ramadani and the war on Iraq, WikiLeaks and the incarceration of Julian Assange.
Jan: Hello again. All due thanks to John Pilger and participants in that spectacular film. And the difficult and honest things we saw there. I now want to introduce Sami Ramadani, who is an Iraqi born academic writer on Iraq and Middle Eastern affairs, and although exiled from Saddam’s regime was actively opposed in this country to the sanctions, and also the subsequent war. Now, I’d like to ask you, Sami, how did you feel as an Iraqi born watching that? And how did you feel watching the build up to war, knowing that you had family there.
Sami: Watching the bombs fall on Baghdad, now that was a terrible moment, and it’s etched in my mind, in a terrible way, it was very emotional. I was crying, I was with some family and friends here and they were crying. And it was a horrendous moment that I don’t wish on anybody. Because, although it was shown as a TV spectacle, but really what you’re watching is a city of about seven to 8 million people. And immediately your thought goes to the people you actually personally know. Being at the receiving end of that so called shock on war because it was a TV spectacle, intended to be [so]. The designers of that war the perpetrators of that war wanted it to be a massive TV spectacle. There were hundreds of journalists sat in these high rise hotels, their cameras already zooming in on the targets, they were even given which targets were to zoom in their cameras. And once the bombing started, it was transmitted live on our TV screens with the city looking as though it was up in flames.
And you immediately start imagining the faces of the people you know, are the receiving end and the children. Just the sound of the bombs was terrifying enough, let alone the actual death and destruction it was causing. And all this was obviously led by a huge campaign, the likes of which I have never experienced preparing for that war of aggression. And the campaign was deafening, relentless, 24 hour coverage. All the TV stations you turn on from BBC to ITV to Sky to American networks, you name it. were preparing the public for a most horrendous war of aggression on a defenceless people, and that has to be stressed, because that’s what the war was about. Terrifying the Iraqi people, because they knew that Saddam’s regime, and in a military sense, had become toothless. They made sure of that, over 13 years of sanctions starting in 1991. and ending with the war in 2003, they made sure through UN inspections through their own spy networks and intelligence that Saddam no longer had any chemical weapons, any biological weapons, any long range missiles even nothing was left of substance and the Iraqi armed forces.
So even the so called Big threatening army was toothless by 2003. So they just launched the war on a defenceless country and defenceless people, and ultimately caused the death of a million Iraqi people. Overwhelmingly civilian. During the years of sanctions of 13 years, some half a million Iraqi children died according to the United Nations, and infamously and famously the UN Permanent Representative Albright Madeleine Albright. When asked how do you feel about the death of half a million Iraqi children? her reply verbatim was “it was a price worth paying” to was worth paying the price of killing half a million children During the sanctions, so it was 13 years of aggression, death and destruction. Not giving clean water was allowed, as john Pilger mentioned in his amazing film, incredibly emotional film powerful film very hard to see film, he mentioned what the sanctions did for the Iraqi people that’s prior to the war of aggression. And then the film so brilliantly goes into how the media sold this war.
Jan: Yes, I remember Tony Benn at the time saying that this war was being perpetrated by people who’ve never known a war because Ben had remembered the Second World War. Yet I felt shame and distress watching that, as a British National and I had never known a war. And most people on that million people March and never known the war. So there’s an odd contradiction there. So what what is it? Do you think in the mindset of people who will, as Pilger’s film says, be part of the elites who intend to go to war? So I suppose I’m asking you to expand on the media preparation for that war, and maybe say something about the godfather of PR. Edward Bernays.
Sami: Yes, yes, I think the film rightly starts within the first few minutes with Edward Bernays, because he was the Godfather, if you like of how to sell an idea how to convince people to accept certain ideas, even though those ideas might be based on fantasy based on untruths, based on lies based on distortions, or based on things which are actually harmful to us. So like the selling of cigarettes, later on how they made smoking glamorous to women in the United States, or Hollywood played a role in a massive jump in the sale of cigarettes and tobacco, because they made it look very glamorous for a woman to smoke and so on. And because we live in a society, which emphasises the selling of a product, you sell a product, we live in a capitalist world, whatever we think, of capitalism, at its core, the cornerstone of our social existence, is how to sell and buy products.
And they handled the question of launching to war in the same way. The media is tuned, finely tuned to selling products of all sorts, mental product, physical products, you name it, they sell it, they are trained as journalists to sell ideas and to sell products. And when war was being prepared, our media was ready to sell it. And that is a few like at the background of why the media for example, John Pilger brilliantly shows how Journalists a year later after the big crime of the war of aggression, started apologising to people. Because everybody knew that there were no WMD later on. Iraq had no such weapons. And obviously, the media was stark naked, how they sold this criminal war, killing hundreds of 1000s of people on a lie. So they started apologising. But even within their apology, you could see the mechanism by which they accepted the lies and sold them to us sold them to the people, because they are ideologically mentally, psychologically prepared to sell war. Because they are part and parcel of that system, which relies on war almost to survive because they sell weapons, they sell all sorts all manner of goods to countries across the world.
They control the world through war. They control raw materials through war, they control strategic areas of the world through war. So people who are absorbed by the system like our leading journalists and owners of the media, are schooled into accepting that type of war. So when politicians come along and say, Look, Saddam is this Saddam is that we need to disarm Iraq. Iraq has W. M. D, the wall, they start selling the politics of fear. As John Pilger also points out, they frighten us to death basically. So if we don’t go and invade Iraq, All hell will break loose London will be up in flames, our own cities will be threatened. So they genuinely frighten us. And 99% of the people don’t want war nobody is born, to go and invade and commit wars of aggression and the British people in their majority, even after the lies were opposed to the war.
And that was the demonstration you mentioned in February 2003 is a good example a million people almost spontaneously went down to the streets in response to the Stop The War call to go and oppose the war. And most people I met overwhelmingly they knew I was Iraqi born, and everybody I met at work, neighbours were supportive of the Iraqi people as opposed to the war. But a significant section of the population bought into the war, because they were misled. And that significant section made the war possible. And then, because the politicians and the media succeeded in hoodwinking the public, and one of the journalists in John Pilger’s film, says we were hoodwinked okay, you were hoodwinked but you were prepared to be hoodwinked as a journalist and the public are innocent, those who believe you, because they believe that their Prime Minister should tell the truth. They believe that the BBC tells the truth and sells the truth. So the journalists, and one of them more or less admitted that, and John Pilger asked him, that really the journalists were as or culprits just like the politicians were. And he more or less admitted, Yes, because they sold a lie to the people of the world, to the British people to the American people, because these are the two countries most concerned and their elites and their arms manufacturers pushed pushed for the war. And they, and they did it and the consequences have been catastrophic.
Jan: On that point Sami, where there is a certain amount of hindsight now that that war was wrong, it was a wanton act. But how can we learn from that about what’s happening now? Is what I see as the, as the Julian Assange case that he is being tormented and psychologically tortured, because he told the truth of what happened after that war because he told the truth of American and British war crimes. So it seems to me that there is a living example of what happens if you look at the situation on the ground at the time. And I wonder if you could say a bit about what preparations there could be in the air now for what could be happening next? but that will be my last question.
Sami: Yes, Sure, sure, I will. And if I go on for too long, please cut me off. Now, I’m looking at your screen, Jan, and I see a poster of Assange, which saying free Assange, rightly so rightly so because as you said, he is being tortured the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights has officially declared more than once, that the imprisonment of Julian Assange, solitary confinement of Julian Assange, over such a long period does amount to torture, the definition of torture includes long periods, of isolation and deprivation of seeing family and friends and exercising enough and so on. He’s being tortured. He’s being treated as a mass murderer. And all he did was expose mass murder. He told the truth, and that’s why he’s in prison. And that’s why he’s being tortured.
Because exposing the truth about the Iraq war and other wars, Afghanistan, all sorts of machinations that Wikileaks have exposed war crimes, that they have exposed preparations for war that footage of the killing of the Reuter journalists in Baghdad, that Wikileaks published was a huge event across the world. It exposed visually how they were deliberately killing civilians. Now, truth like this worries our politicians, because next time they want to launch a war people will be much more alert. Are the politicians telling us the truth? Are they doing another Iraq on us? Are they doing another Libya, another Syria, another Yemen today, where millions of people are threatened with starvation, where we are arming the Saudi brutal rulers to kill and maim innocent, impoverished people in Yemen.
Truth matters. And if the media continue hiding the truth, then politicians and those who want war have a much easier task on their hands to launch war. That’s why the role of the media is becoming more and more important. That’s why people, heroes really like Assange, are so important. During the Iraq war, similarly, there were some independent journalists who expose those crimes. But the BBC didn’t show it. But at least there were witnesses. And some of the crimes in Iraq did come out. And Assange did expose some of those crimes, and for going on into the near future, we’re seeing a similar scenario, again being solved by the media. They are heightening a Cold War atmosphere against China, practically dishing out racist propaganda against the Chinese people. All with the aim of stoking up hatred fear.
Demonization is an important word to remember. They demonise a state by demonising certain individuals. They demonise the whole of Iraq and the society under the name of Saddam, or Assad in Syria, or Gaddafi in Libya. But what they are after, is destroying these countries occupying them, getting rid of people who oppose them, and they are preparing similar things against China. But if we look focus on the Middle East, they are actually preparing a war against Iran. They have been doing it for years by accusing them of having nuclear bombs or they will have a nuclear bomb in few months or a few years as Israel always preaches.
And the United States is actually now as we speak, Jan sending more troops to Iraq, sending more troops to Syria, they are building a new base in Syria and Hasaka. They are controlling oil regions in Syria through US soldier presence, and proxy forces, they are building more bases in Iraq, they’re sending 1000s of more troops in Iraq despite Iraqi Parliament’s request that they leave the country, while the new President Biden is talking peace and the headlines is about the US joining the Paris accord on the environment. He is actually preparing for war, he’s sending more troops to Iraq, and Syria, and considering keeping the troops in Afghanistan.
Even though this other war monger Trump decided that by May or whenever they might withdraw the troops from Afghanistan Biden now is revisiting that and he might well decide to keep the troops in Afghanistan for much longer. So we’ve got a new President, replacing an old one who preached war and practiced war whenever he liked, but sometimes he didn’t like some wars and wanted to withdraw and so on. That media actually attacked Trump, for wanting to withdraw from Syria, for example, they wanted them to launch more missiles. So at least he was a frank warmonger.
But with Biden, we’ve got this policy of soft sell of war. And they try to cover up their potential activity of preparing for war and potential wars by talking about the environment, paying lip service even to the important cause of eliminating pollution, but the biggest polluters, by the way, statistically proven fact is the war machines of the United States and major military powers. It’s the war machine that is the number one institutional polluter in the world, stop war, and you will eliminate quite a lot of the pollution in the world.
So even when it comes to the environment is really lip service by Biden and his friends. And unfortunately, we are replacing a hyena for President and Trump with a snake like Biden, and I’m saying that because I know there’s something called the Biden plan, even when he was a Senator, he proposed dividing Iraq into three regions with a weak centre. And this is the Biden plan for Iraq to fragment it, and control it through military presence, and through corrupt politicians. And they are trying to sell new wars against Iran. And they come off light by saying, we’re gonna fight outside that we cannot fight. We’re going to fight ISIS, the these are terrorist organisations, criminal organisations, use sectarian violence and so on. And they were the creation of the United States in Afghanistan, along the Pakistan Afghan border, they trained al Qaeda, they financed al Qaeda, they sent them to Syria, they use them in Iraq.
So under the guise of fighting terrorism, they want to continue preparations for new wars of aggression, which is sad. And we have to campaign to release and to free Assange, because he told the truth, and in campaigning to free Assange, who are also trying to stop future wars, to stop war crimes, and so on. So it is vital that we watch this film by Pilger It’s vital that we spread this film around is vital that we campaign to stop wars is vital to defend heroic journalists and publishers like Assange, and like Wikileaks personnel.
Jan: Sami, I’m going to thank you very much from the bottom of my heart, and the collective hearts of the Julian Assange Defence Committee and all those campaigning for his freedom, because in doing so, they’re also as you say, campaigning to free the truth. And I think conclusions are being drawn, that this rapacious capitalist system that is going to war the basis of human rights, it’s it’s really economics, and in doing so they are committed most appalling human rights crimes themselves. But I think because of the work of yourself and the JADC Defence Committee, as well as Julian Assange himself, the campaign for this knowledge, and ultimately, for his freedom is getting out of the anti war movement. Impressive, though it is, but this needs to be out in the public. And then one day, he will be seen as a truth teller, and a hero, as you say. So thank you. Thank you very much, Sami,
Sami: And thank you Jan
Jan: Go well in the world and thank
Sami: Life goes on Thank you.
Jan: It goes on. Thank you.
The original interview was conducted in February 2021 at a Sands Films online showing of “The War You Don’t See” which you can find it in their website here.