The art of lying

In 1992 Mark Higson, the British foreign office official responsible for Iraq, appeared before an inquiry into the scandal of British arms sold illegally to Saddam Hussein. He described a ”culture of lying” at the heart of British ­foreign-policy-making. I interviewed Higson and asked him how frequently ministers and officials lied to ­Parliament.

”It’s systemic,” he said. ”The draft letters I wrote for various ministers were saying that nothing had changed, the embargo on the sale of arms to Iraq was the same.”

”Was that true?” I asked.

”No, it wasn’t true.”

”And your superiors knew it wasn’t true?”


”So how much truth did the public get?”

”The public got as much truth as we could squeeze out, given that we told downright lies.”

From Britain’s support for ­apartheid in South Africa to the ­supply of warplanes to the ­Indonesian dictator, Suharto, ­knowing he was using them against the civilian population of East Timor, to the denial of vaccines and other humanitarian aid to the ­children of Iraq, my experience with ”British diplomacy” is that Higson was right and remains right.

But Britain is a mere subcontractor to the United States. Almost everything that is ”foreign policy” in London is approved in Washington, the centre of the most rapacious power in historical memory. When you bear this in mind, the American presidential race is surreal.

War and militarism are unmentionable; and the beatification of president Barack Obama is well under way; for it is he who ”challenges America to rise up [and] summon the better angels of our nature”, says Rolling Stone magazine, reminiscent of the mating calls of writers on the London Guardian to the ”mystical” Blair.

In fact, Obama is backed by the biggest, most notorious looters on Wall Street. The ”dove” and ”candidate of change” has voted repeatedly to fund Bush’s wars, and now demands more war in Afghanistan while he threatens to bomb Pakistan.

Dismissing the popular democracies in Latin America as a ”vacuum” to be filled by the US, he has endorsed Colombia’s ”right to strike terrorists who seek safe-havens across its borders”. Translated, this means the ”right” of the criminal regime in that country to invade its neighbours, notably uppity Venezuela, on Washington’s behalf. The British human rights group, Justice for Colombia, has just published a study of Anglo-American backing for the Colombian regime of Alvaro Uribe. It describes a client regime linked to death squads and responsible for more than 90% of all cases of torture. The principal torturers, the ”security forces”, are trained by the Americans and the British.

This travesty is known as ”Plan Colombia” and was the design of Bill Clinton, the last Democratic Party president and the inspiration of Blair’s new Labour. ­Clinton’s ­administration was at least as ­violent as Bush’s – see Unicef’s report that 500 000 Iraqi children died as a result of the Anglo-­American ­blockade in the 1990s.

The lesson learned is that no presidential candidate, least of all a Democrat awash with money from America’s ”banksters”, as Franklin Roosevelt called them, can or will challenge the corporate/military system that controls and rewards him.

Obama’s job is to present a benign, even progressive face that will revive the US’s democratic pretensions, internationally and domestically while ensuring nothing of substance changes. His skin colour may well help him regain this njustified ”trust”, even though it is a similar hue to that of Colin ­Powell, a war criminal who lied to the United Nations for Bush and who now endorses Obama. ”Whoever wins,” commented a British official with a trace of irony, ”will lead the Free World.”

Kidnapping a nation
Earlier this month I was at the House of Lords to witness one of the more shameful acts in British imperial history. By a margin of 3-2, the ”Law Lords”, the final court of appeal, said, in effect, that the kidnapping of an entire nation was legal. They were giving the ultimate decision on an appeal by the British government against previous judgements in the high court that had found the forced removal of the people of the Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean, a British colony, was ”outrageous”, ”illegal” and ”repugnant”.

During the 1960s and the 1970s, the 2 000 inhabitants of the Chagos islands were either tricked into leaving their homeland or expelled, the women and children forced to lie in the hold of a rusting ship, reminiscent of slavery. Why? The British and American governments had secretly conspired to ”cleanse” the islands of humanity so that the US could build a military base on the main island of Diego Garcia.

Thereafter, most of the Chagossians rotted in the slums of Mauritius – until they began their long struggle for ”British justice”. I have read the declassified official documents from the time that provide a glimpse of the immorality and ruthlessness of great power. In 1968, a senior foreign office official wrote a document headed ”Maintaining the fiction”. In this he urged the government to ”argue” the ”fiction” that the Chagossians were ”only a floating population” – when, in fact, they had been settled in the islands since the late 18th century. Today Diego Garcia, a former paradise over which the Union Jack flies, serves the ”war on terror” as an American interrogation and torture centre.

Outside the House of Lords, I met again Lizette Talatte, who once told me that her two children had ”died from sadness” following the expulsion. She is an old lady now. I took her hand and the tears rolled down her fragile face. I shall not be surprised if she, too, dies from sadness. Rule Britannia.

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John Pilger
John Pilger is an award-winning journalist, filmmaker, and author.

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