I think I’m getting the picture. North Korea breaks all its nuclear agreements with the United States, throws out UN inspectors and sets off to make a bomb a year, and President Bush says it’s “a diplomatic issue”. Iraq hands over a 12,000-page account of its weapons production and allows UN inspectors to roam all over the country, and – after they’ve found not a jam-jar of dangerous chemicals in 230 raids – President Bush announces that Iraq is a threat to America, has not disarmed and may have to be invaded. So that’s it, then.
How, readers keep asking me in the most eloquent of letters, does he get away with it? Indeed, how does Tony Blair get away with it? Not long ago in the House of Commons, our dear Prime Minister was announcing in his usual schoolmasterly tones – the ones used on particularly inattentive or dim boys in class – that Saddam’s factories of mass destruction were “up [pause] and running [pause] now.” But the Dear Leader in Pyongyang does have factories that are “up [pause] and running [pause] now”. And Tony Blair is silent.
Why do we tolerate this? Why do Americans? Over the past few days, there has been just the smallest of hints that the American media – the biggest and most culpable backer of the White House’s campaign of mendacity – has been, ever so timidly, asking a few questions. Months after The Independent first began to draw its readers’ attention to Donald Rumsfeld’s chummy personal visits to Saddam in Baghdad at the height of Iraq’s use of poison gas against Iran in 1983, The Washington Post has at last decided to tell its own readers a bit of what was going on. The reporter Michael Dobbs includes the usual weasel clauses (“opinions differ among Middle East experts… whether Washington could have done more to stop the flow to Baghdad of technology for building weapons of mass destruction”), but the thrust is there: we created the monster and Mr Rumsfeld played his part in doing so.
But no American – or British – newspaper has dared to investigate another, almost equally dangerous, relationship that the present US administration is forging behind our backs: with the military-supported regime in Algeria. For 10 years now, one of the world’s dirtiest wars has been fought out in this country, supposedly between “Islamists” and “security forces”, in which almost 200,000 people – mostly civilians – have been killed. But over the past five years there has been growing evidence that elements of those same security forces were involved in some of the bloodiest massacres, including the throat-cutting of babies. The Independent has published the most detailed reports of Algerian police torture and of the extrajudicial executions of women as well as men. Yet the US, as part of its obscene “war on terror”, has cosied up to the Algerian regime. It is helping to re-arm Algeria’s army and promised more assistance. William Burns, the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East, announced that Washington “has much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight terrorism”.
And of course, he’s right. The Algerian security forces can instruct the Americans on how to make a male or female prisoner believe that they are going to suffocate. The method – US personnel can find the experts in this particular torture technique working in the basement of the Château Neuf police station in central Algiers – is to cover the trussed-up victim’s mouth with a rag and then soak it with cleaning fluid. The prisoner slowly suffocates. There’s also, of course, the usual nail-pulling and the usual wires attached to penises and vaginas and – I’ll always remember the eye-witness description – the rape of an old woman in a police station, from which she emerged, covered in blood, urging other prisoners to resist.
Some of the witnesses to these abominations were Algerian police officers who had sought sanctuary in London. But rest assured, Mr Burns is right, America has much to learn from the Algerians. Already, for example – don’t ask why this never reached the newspapers – the Algerian army chief of staff has been warmly welcomed at Nato’s southern command headquarters at Naples.
And the Americans are learning. A national security official attached to the CIA divulged last month that when it came to prisoners, “our guys may kick them around a little in the adrenaline of the immediate aftermath (sic).” Another US “national security” official announced that “pain control in wounded patients is a very subjective thing”. But let’s be fair. The Americans may have learnt this wickedness from the Algerians. They could just as well have learned it from the Taliban.
Meanwhile, inside the US, the profiling of Muslims goes on apace. On 17 November, thousands of Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans, Afghans, Bahrainis, Eritreans, Lebanese, Moroccans, Omanis, Qataris, Somalis, Tunisians, Yemenis and Emiratis turned up at federal offices to be finger-printed. The New York Times – the most chicken of all the American papers in covering the post-9/11 story – revealed (only in paragraph five of its report, of course) that “over the past week, agency officials… have handcuffed and detained hundreds of men who showed up to be finger-printed. In some cases the men had expired student or work visas; in other cases, the men could not provide adequate documentation of their immigration status.”
In Los Angeles, the cops ran out of plastic handcuffs as they herded men off to the lockup. Of the 1,000 men arrested without trial or charges after 11 September, many were native-born Americans.
Indeed, many Americans don’t even know what the chilling acronym of the “US Patriot Act” even stands for. “Patriot” is not a reference to patriotism. The name stands for the “United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act”. America’s $200m (£125m) “Total Awareness Programme” will permit the US government to monitor citizens’ e-mail and internet activity and collect data on the movement of all Americans. And although we have not been told about this by our journalists, the US administration is now pestering European governments for the contents of their own citizens’ data files. The most recent – and most preposterous – of these claims came in a US demand for access to the computer records of the French national airline, Air France, so that it could “profile” thousands of its passengers. All this is beyond the wildest dreams of Saddam and the Dear Leader Kim.
The new rules even worm their way into academia. Take the friendly little university of Purdue in Indiana, where I lectured a few weeks ago. With federal funds, it’s now setting up an “Institute for Homeland Security”, whose 18 “experts” will include executives from Boeing and Hewlett-Packard and US Defence and State Department officials, to organise “research programmes” around “critical mission areas”. What, I wonder, are these areas to be? Surely nothing to do with injustice in the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict or the presence of thousands of US troops on Arab lands. After all, it was Richard Perle, the most sinister of George Bush’s pro-Israeli advisers, who stated last year that “terrorism must be decontextualised”.
Meanwhile, we are – on that very basis – ploughing on to war in Iraq, which has oil, but avoiding war in Korea, which does not have oil. And our leaders are getting away with it. In doing so, we are threatening the innocent, torturing our prisoners and “learning” from men who should be in the dock for war crimes. This, then, is our true memorial to the men and women so cruelly murdered in the crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001.