War and terrorism


“The island of saints and scholars and gombeens and fucking arse-lickers.” 
Christy Moore on Ronald Reagan’s visit to Ireland

Ireland has always had something of an affinity with the United States. Decades of mass emigration to the States created a powerful Irish-American community, so influential that presidential candidates are always keen to highlight whatever tenuous link they have with this tiny island.

The visit to Belfast by Barack Obama before the G8 Summit was, like all other presidential visits, a circus of sycophancy and flattery, revealing much about our media and political class. Politicians, dignitaries and journalists appeared infatuated as the charismatic, photogenic war criminal took to the stage at the Waterfront Hall to instruct us how to build a peaceful society. The crowd giggled and cheered when he used a common local phrase, handing an easy “news” angle to an obedient local media.

The pomp was absurd and the conduct of our politicians, who are supposed to constitute a government, was embarrassing. United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly put it well when she attacked Enda Kenny for “prostituting” the country to the Obamas “in return for a pat on the head”, for which the Taoiseach attempted to rebuke her in his characteristically dull and mumbling way.

As ever, the local media in the north was devoid of any real analysis. Irritating clichés such as “feel good factor” and “putting Belfast on the map” were brandished about by hacks who had clearly run out of things to say after violence predictably failed to materialise at the ICTU’s anti-G8 demonstration last Saturday. Obama’s apparent support for the northern peace process was hailed by many. No mention was made of the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan or the thousands of civilians murdered by CIA drones. Nor was the incarceration of Bradley Manning, who has spent over three years in solitary confinement, deemed worth discussing.  

The Obama visit exposed the insular, provincial mindset which is dominant in the north of Ireland. Despite the mutilated corpses of nearly 200 children murdered by US drones in recent years, the president was treated like a demigod, whose infinite wisdom on peace and harmony was to be bestowed upon us mere ignorant Paddies. This was in keeping with our political leaders’ peculiar fixation on seeking approval from the most violent and aggressive government on earth for the Irish peace process. SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt described Obama’s speech in the Waterfront as “inspirational”. No acknowledgement was made of the countless crimes committed by Obama’s administration. The SDLP appear to oppose political violence only when it happens on a small scale here in Ireland.

This is part of an alarming tendency which has taken hold in the west. George W Bush was rightly despised by most people around the world, unlike Barack Obama. He still enjoys a considerable degree of popularity. Yet, in many respects, Obama is worse than Bush. Not only has he continued Bush’s wars, he has escalated them with enthusiasm. At the minute, he is seeking to arm gangs of Islamic fundamentalists in Syria, a prospect which promises to make the bloodbath there infinitely worse. His administration has persecuted more whistleblowers than all other previous administrations combined, most recently, Edward Snowden. And, in a disturbingly Orwellian fashion, Obama sits down every Tuesday with a team of national security advisors to draw up a list of people, no matter where they are in the world, to be summarily executed by US forces. Did he take time out of the G8 Summit last Tuesday to draw up a similar list? Did he ponder about who would be on his list this week after speaking with school children in Belfast? Questions such as these are deemed unmentionable by our obedient media.  

Obama’s charm has deceived many. It’s no accident that he was awarded ‘marketer of the year’ in 2008 by Advertising Age. As well as being a war criminal, Obama is also a brand. His supporters don’t want to accept that he has continued Bush’s wars, filled his administration with Wall Street lobbyists and spies on American and foreign citizens. All of this is brushed aside by his liberal apologists who suggest he is unable to do anything different. The fact that he is less blatant about his imperial crimes than Bush was appears to have absolved him in the eyes of trendy middle class liberals. Where is the popular indignation against Obama that we saw when his predecessor invaded sovereign nations?  Where is the outcry about the plight of hunger strikers in the Guantanamo Bay internment camp? Why do we not hear calls for his arrest for war crimes, as we did with Bush?

It’s of little shock that the gombeens and arse-lickers who packed out the Waterfront Hall – similar to the ones referred to by Christy Moore – fail to see beyond Obama’s sinister propaganda.

This article was published in the Morning Star

2975186_1352784608Amidst all the pageantry and spin of the US presidential election, you may have missed the news of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif’s untimely death. The 36-year-old Yemeni citizen died in September, languishing in solitary confinement after spending eleven years in Guantanamo Bay. Amnesty International reported in 2009 that he had suffered from “a number of physical health problems, including a fractured cheekbone, a shattered eardrum, blindness in one eye, a dislocated shoulder blade, and a possibly dislocated knee.” Adnan endured almost eleven years of this torture, embarking on a number of hunger strikes in protest against his treatment. He was never charged with any crime.

Latif’s grim death cell, to which he was consigned without even the semblance of due process, seemed a world away from the nationalistic, patriotic, flag-waving fanfare surrounding Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony last month. Comments in support of gay rights during his speech were held up as evidence by the liberal media as having shown the president’s “progressive” tendencies. The presidency of Barack Obama, however, has been anything but progressive.

Throughout American history, there has been a remarkable continuity in foreign and domestic policy among successive administrations. Domestically, the economic system was skewed heavily in favour of those who already enjoyed enormous wealth to the detriment of those who had least. The vast prison system devoured the lives of millions of US citizens while, on the foreign front, the American Empire’s “right” to bomb, pillage, loot, occupy, torture, murder and maim wherever in the world it wished went unchallenged – a modern adoption of Manifest Destiny.

Despite his promises of “hope” and “change” back in 2008, part of a deceiving PR campaign for which Advertising Age named him marketer of the year, this continuity remains unbroken under Obama. Since day one, his administration has been packed with Bush-era war criminals and Wall Street lobbyists who helped crash the world’s economy. What’s clear is that even when the figurehead changes, the system ticks as normal, regardless of any soft piecemeal reforms. Contrary to the image portrayed in all the phony television debates and public personality clashes which surround each tedious election, there are many more issues which unite the Democratic and Republican parties than divide them.

The sinister nature of the Obama administration can be seen on a number of fronts; from the children murdered by his drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan to the sponsoring of Israeli terror and an array of military dictatorships. At home, repression has increased on a massive scale. No case highlights this more strikingly than that of Bradley Manning, the alleged Wikileaks whistle-blower. He was accused of having leaked footage of a US Apache helicopter massacring at least 18 unarmed people – including two Reuters journalists. For this, Bradley Manning faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison. The soldiers who murdered 18 people, of course, are lauded as “our boys” and “heroes”.

Locked in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, deprived of sleep and refused access to clothing, the treatment of Bradley Manning is testament to the cruelty of the American state against even its own people. Juan Mendez, who investigated Manning’s case for the UN, told the Guardian: “I conclude that the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement (regardless of the name given to his regime by the prison authorities) constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture. If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.” Manning’s treatment, according to Obama, is “appropriate”.

Abroad, Obama has continued and expanded Bush’s wars of aggression. His enthusiastic embrace of Bush’s drone strategy, according to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, has led to the murders of as many as 891 civilians in Pakistan. Of these, 176 were children – some as young as three – blown to pieces by machines controlled through a computer screen in Nevada. “The same person who attacked my home has gotten re-elected,” said Mohammad Rehman Khan, a 28-year-old Pakistani who lost his father, three brothers and a nephew in a U.S. drone attack a month after Obama first took office.

The false dawns offered by political liberalism are apparent – mild reforms at home, mass terror abroad. Invasion, occupation, violation of national sovereignty, summary executions, internment, torture and murder. These things all occurred under Obama, yet the reaction has been minimal. Where are the mass protests which erupted onto the streets after similar outrages perpetrated by Bush? Where are the calls for his arrest, which were so common during Bush’s terms? Disturbingly, Obama’s apparent sophistication and ‘hip’ liberalism appear to have absolved him of war crimes in the eyes of many.


Armed republicanism has once again raised its unwanted head in my home town of Lurgan, defying the will of the vast majority of the people in the area and the rest of Ireland. 54-year-old David Black was gunned down on November 1 while traveling to his work at Maghaberry Prison. Mr Black’s killers are believed to have driven alongside his car on the M1 before opening fire with an automatic weapon, hitting him several times. He died at the scene.

The latest murder comes 18 months after 25-year-old PSNI officer Ronan Kerr was blown up by an Oglaigh na hEireann car bomb in Omagh, a killing which was as pointless as it was callous. Murders such as these achieve little besides satisfying the bloodthirst of the perpetrators and increasing state repression. Given the devastation which the families of the victims experience as a result of these groups’ actions, the lack of public explanation is striking. They are devoid of a greater strategy for achieving their professed goals and appear to possess little or no political understanding. For them, Perfidious Albion is the source of Ireland’s ills. The use of ‘armed struggle’ is just as central to the existence of these groups as the achievement of full Irish independence. For them, the means is an end in itself.

The methods of these groups also reveal a deeper disturbing tendency. In recent years, particularly in Derry, dissident republicans have attempted to present themselves as the moral guardians of the nationalist community. Under the guise of Republican Action Against Drugs, they have embarked on a self-appointed crusade against the drug problems plaguing working class areas, doing so by mutilating teenagers and young men through the act of shooting them in the kneecaps. For all their “revolutionary” pretentions, these groups have adopted a distinctly reactionary and thoroughly unenlightened response to recreational drug use.

Predictably, David Black’s murder was widely condemned by politicians, trade unionists and other public figures. The likelihood of dissident republicans heeding this outrage, however, is low. Bland condemnation was hypocritically articulated by British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose army is currently involved in the rapacious occupation of Afghanistan. He is consistently silent, of course, about the terrorism perpetrated by his erstwhile allies in Washington. The use of unmanned drones in Pakistan to murder “suspected militants”, often a euphemism for defenceless children, goes without comment. This episode also highlights the double standards which exist in our media. David Black’s death was rightly described by the BBC as “murder”. However, on the rare occasion when civilian deaths at the hands of western forces are reported, the words used invoke a more humane and clinical version of slaughter, such as “air strikes” and “raids”. In the eyes of our media, British and American soldiers do not murder – they are merely involved in “military operations”. Terrorism is only wrong when it occurs on a small scale, it seems.

And so, for all of this, another family is torn to pieces and yet more alienated working class youth tied up in the activities of these groups will, in all probability, face lengthy prison sentences. All part of a futile campaign with no possibility of succeeding. The heavily armed Provisional IRA, with its considerable communal and international support, ultimately failed to achieve a British withdrawal from Ireland. A campaign of sporadic murders with no end game in sight carried out by a number of tiny groups with miniscule support is highly unlikely to achieve the same goal.

This article was published in The Morning Star

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

George Orwell, Ninteen-Eighty Four.

The term “Orwellian” has almost become overused in recent times when describing the words and deeds of the West’s leaders. Almost.

At the time of writing, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama is in the process of gearing up for a war with Iran. So too is Middle East Peace Envoy Tony Blair. In September, during the run-up to the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, he called for “regime change in Tehran”. “If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons capability it would destabilise the region very, very badly,” he said. “They continue to support groups that are engaged with terrorism and the forces of reaction.” Sound familiar? With his criminal lies so thoroughly debunked over the illegal invasion of Iraq, it’s increasingly hard to understand why anyone takes what the warmonger Blair says seriously.

Despite promising “hope” and “change” upon his election as US president in 2008, Barack Obama has continued the old imperialist tradition long promoted by the American establishment. Since 1945, more than 50 governments, many of them democratic, have been overthrown by the United States. In Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan, this custom shows no signs of relenting. Indeed, neither does the hypocrisy. In October, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta warned Iran, with a straight face, that they should not “meddle in the affairs of Iraq”.

Legendary journalist John Pilger recently described Obama as the president of “permanent war”. Obama’s record confirms this assertion. This year, Obama approved an enormous military spending budget of $708 billion. Despite his pre-election promises, the inhumane Guantanamo Bay remains open, with more than 150 people still incarcerated there. US-led wars continue to rage in the Middle East, while the rights of working class Americans are increasingly restricted. Nowhere else can this be seen so clearly than in the brutal crackdowns against the peaceful Occupy movement.

Foreign policy, carrying on from the Bush era, remains unchanged. In May 2009, just five months before Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize, American B-52 bombers flattened the village of Granai, in the Farah Province of Afghanistan, killing 140 civilians. 93 of the murder victims were children. In June this year, a NATO air strike in the Helmand Province resulted in the deaths of 14 civilians, 12 of them children. More than 2,000 civilians have been murdered by unmanned US drones since 2004, most of them under Obama’s watch. This is his contribution to “peace”. “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength,” said George Orwell. His words ring true today.

Just like in the lead up to the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003, a wave of half-truths and outright lies has flooded the media’s reporting of Iran. Of course, there have been honourable exceptions, including the New Statesman’s Medhi Hassan and the Guardian’s Seumas Milne. As in 2002 and 2003, the majority of the media are content to parrot the falsifications of the ruling class.

The big issue for the Western bourgeoise is Tehran’s “nuclear ability”. The fact that NATO and its allies hold a virtual monopoly over the world’s nuclear weapons apparently does not matter. That the US and Israel are the only states to have invaded countries in the Middle East in the past decade is also a non-issue. Iran has not invaded any other nation in living memory. Indeed, it has itself been the victim of foreign interference in the past.

In 1953, the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh was over thrown in a coup orchestrated by the CIA and MI5. His crime? He had the temerity to place Iran’s oil under the ownership of the Iranian people. Since 1913, the country’s oil had been owned by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now known as BP. Mossaddegh changed this. For his trouble, he was replaced by the Shah, an absolute monarch with no regard for human rights. The US-backed Shah was eventually overthrown during the Islamic Revolution of 1979, an act of independence that has never been forgiven by the West.

The threat of war in Iran is a very real one. Indeed, as Seumas Milne reported in this Wednesday’s Guardian, it has already begun. A covert terrorist campaign carried out by the US and Israel is under way. The danger of this escalating and creating another bloodbath in the Middle East is merely an afterthought for Obama and his ilk. The people of Iran are expendable. Oil is all that matters.

Clearly, the lessons of Iraq have not been learnt.

The drumbeats of war started to beat not long after the dreadful events of 11 September, 2001. That day, thousands of working people lost their lives in as horrific a manner as anyone would care to imagine. Afterwards, amid a mass of jingoism and extreme American nationalism, the deaths and suffering of these victims was used to justify a further decade of mass terrorism. The greatest crime of the 21st century, the invasion of Iraq, was carried out on the back of these unforgettable events. Doubtless, the coming anniversary will see another flurry of uber-patriotism and willful blindness.

Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman once wrote about ‘worthy victims’ and ‘unworthy victims’. In ‘Manufacturing Consent’, their 1986 book analysing the US media, they identified a long-running characteristic in the West to emphasise the crimes of others while minimising, or completely ignoring, their own crimes. Chomsky and Herman highlighted the double standards shown by the Western media during the Cold War. Its constant condemnation of the crimes of the Stalinist states in Eastern Europe was in sharp contrast to their habit of ignoring the crimes of Pinochet, Suharto and other Western-backed dictators.

The up coming anniversary of “9/11” underlines this argument. Everyone knows how many people died that day. Many even know the exact time the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Those who died that day are worthy victims. How many people in the West know the current death toll in Iraq? Or in Afghanistan? Or in Pakistan? Or in Palestine? Indeed, are there any who care?

On September 11, 1973, the democratically elected government of Chile under Salvador Allende was overthrown in an American-backed coup. The openly Fascist Augusto Pinochet was installed at the country’s helm. 30,000 socialists, trade unionists, liberals and others were massacred under his regime, which consecutive US governments continued to support. However, the victims of Pinochet are not worthy of two weeks of commemoration or a global minutes’ silences. Neither are those who are slaughtered by American-made bombs in Palestine. Nor are the countless thousands who perished in Bush and Blair’s criminal invasion of Iraq. They are unworthy victims.

Facts like these destroy the lie that the ‘9/11’ attacks came out of thin air. In most mainstream discourse, the word ‘Palestine’ rarely comes into any discussion on the terror attacks of ten years ago. Indeed, in our context-free media, who is surprised?

As much of the Western world stops to pay its respects to the thousands of innocent people murdered a decade ago, I will bear in mind also the countless millions who have died at the hands of the American Empire.

Of course, there will be many of my fellow countrymen and women who will be appalled at my stance. This ‘outrage’ will certainly come from the same flock of gombeens who drooled over the warmonger Obama when he visited Ireland earlier this year. “Who cares that thousands of civilians have been murdered as a result of his drone attacks in Pakistan?”, they would say. “Sure he spoke a couple of words of Irish and drank some Guinness! He must be fucking cool!”.