Robert Fisk: We are the war criminals now

'Everything we have believed in since the Second World

War goes by the board as we pursue our own exclusive


29 November 2001

We are becoming war criminals in Afghanistan. The US

Air Force bombs Mazar-i-Sharif for the Northern

Alliance, and our heroic Afghan allies ? who

slaughtered 50,000 people in Kabul between 1992 and

1996 ? move into the city and execute up to 300

Taliban fighters. The report is a footnote on the

television satellite channels, a "nib" in journalistic

parlance. Perfectly normal, it seems. The Afghans have

a "tradition" of revenge. So, with the strategic

assistance of the USAF, a war crime is committed.

Now we have the Mazar-i-Sharif prison "revolt", in

which Taliban inmates opened fire on their Alliance

jailers. US Special Forces ? and, it has emerged,

British troops ? helped the Alliance to overcome the

uprising and, sure enough, CNN tells us some prisoners

were "executed" trying to escape. It is an atrocity.

British troops are now stained with war crimes. Within

days, The Independent's Justin Huggler has found more

executed Taliban members in Kunduz.

The Americans have even less excuse for this massacre.

For the US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld,

stated quite specifically during the siege of the city

that US air raids on the Taliban defenders would stop

"if the Northern Alliance requested it". Leaving aside

the revelation that the thugs and murderers of the

Northern Alliance were now acting as air controllers

to the USAF in its battle with the thugs and murderers

of the Taliban, Mr Rumsfeld's incriminating remark

places Washington in the witness box of any war-crimes

trial over Kunduz. The US were acting in full military

co-operation with the Northern Alliance militia.

Most television journalists, to their shame, have

shown little or no interest in these disgraceful

crimes. Cosying up to the Northern Alliance, chatting

to the American troops, most have done little more

than mention the war crimes against prisoners in the

midst of their reports. What on earth has gone wrong

with our moral compass since 11 September?

Perhaps I can suggest an answer. After both the First

and Second World Wars, we ? the "West" ? grew a forest

of legislation to prevent further war crimes. The very

first Anglo-French-Russian attempt to formulate such

laws was provoked by the Armenian Holocaust at the

hands of the Turks in 1915; The Entente said it would

hold personally responsible "all members of the

(Turkish) Ottoman government and those of their agents

who are implicated in such massacres". After the

Jewish Holocaust and the collapse of Germany in 1945,

article 6 (C) of the Nuremberg Charter and the

Preamble of the UN Convention on genocide referred to

"crimes against humanity". Each new post-1945 war

produced a raft of legislation and the creation of

evermore human rights groups to lobby the world on

liberal, humanistic Western values.

Over the past 50 years, we sat on our moral pedestal

and lectured the Chinese and the Soviets, the Arabs

and the Africans, about human rights. We pronounced on

the human-rights crimes of Bosnians and Croatians and

Serbs. We put many of them in the dock, just as we did

the Nazis at Nuremberg. Thousands of dossiers were

produced, describing ? in nauseous detail ? the secret

courts and death squads and torture and extra judicial

executions carried out by rogue states and

pathological dictators. Quite right too.

Yet suddenly, after 11 September, we went mad. We

bombed Afghan villages into rubble, along with their

inhabitants ? blaming the insane Taliban and Osama bin

Laden for our slaughter ? and now we have allowed our

gruesome militia allies to execute their prisoners.

President George Bush has signed into law a set of

secret military courts to try and then liquidate

anyone believed to be a "terrorist murderer" in the

eyes of America's awesomely inefficient intelligence

services. And make no mistake about it, we are talking

here about legally sanctioned American government

death squads. They have been created, of course, so

that Osama bin Laden and his men should they be caught

rather than killed, will have no public defence; just

a pseudo trial and a firing squad.

It's quite clear what has happened. When people with

yellow or black or brownish skin, with Communist or

Islamic or Nationalist credentials, murder their

prisoners or carpet bomb villages to kill their

enemies or set up death squad courts, they must be

condemned by the United States, the European Union,

the United Nations and the "civilised" world. We are

the masters of human rights, the Liberals, the great

and good who can preach to the impoverished masses.

But when our people are murdered ? when our glittering

buildings are destroyed ? then we tear up every piece

of human rights legislation, send off the B-52s in the

direction of the impoverished masses and set out to

murder our enemies.

Winston Churchill took the Bush view of his enemies.

In 1945, he preferred the straightforward execution of

the Nazi leadership. Yet despite the fact that

Hitler's monsters were responsible for at least 50

million deaths ? 10,000 times greater than the victims

of 11 September ? the Nazi murderers were given a

trial at Nuremberg because US President Truman made a

remarkable decision. "Undiscriminating executions or

punishments," he said, "without definite findings of

guilt fairly arrived at, would not fit easily on the

American conscience or be remembered by our children

with pride."

No one should be surprised that Mr Bush ? a small-time

Texas Governor-Executioner ? should fail to understand

the morality of a statesman in the Whitehouse. What is

so shocking is that the Blairs, Schröders, Chiracs and

all the television boys should have remained so

gutlessly silent in the face of the Afghan executions

and East European-style legislation sanctified since

11 September.

There are ghostly shadows around to remind us of the

consequences of state murder. In France, a general

goes on trial after admitting to torture and murder in

the 1954-62 Algerian war, because he referred to his

deeds as "justifiable acts of duty performed without

pleasure or remorse". And in Brussels, a judge will

decide if the Israeli Prime Minister, Arial Sharon,

can be prosecuted for his "personal responsibility"

for the 1982 massacre in Sabra and Chatila.

Yes, I know the Taliban were a cruel bunch of

bastards. They committed most of their massacres

outside Mazar-i-Sharif in the late 1990s. They

executed women in the Kabul football stadium. And yes,

lets remember that 11 September was a crime against


But I have a problem with all this. George Bush says

that "you are either for us or against us" in the war

for civilisation against evil. Well, I'm sure not for

bin Laden. But I'm not for Bush. I'm actively against

the brutal, cynical, lying "war of civilisation" that

he has begun so mendaciously in our name and which has

now cost as many lives as the World Trade Centre mass


At this moment, I can't help remembering my dad. He

was old enough to have fought in the First World War.

In the third Battle of Arras. And as great age

overwhelmed him near the end of the century, he raged

against the waste and murder of the 1914-1918 war.

When he died in 1992, I inherited the campaign medal

of which he was once so proud, proof that he had

survived a war he had come to hate and loathe and

despise. On the back, it says: "The Great War for

Civilisation." Maybe I should send it to George Bush. 


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