“The enemy is cunning. A cunning enemy must not be spared. The whole people rose to its feet as soon as these ghastly crimes became known. The whole people is quivering with indignation and I, as the representative of the state prosecution, join my anger, the indignant voice of the state prosecutor, to the rumbling of the voices of millions!
“I want to conclude by reminding you, comrades judges, of those demands which the law makes in cases of the gravest crimes against the state. I take the liberty of reminding you that it is your duty, once you find these people, all sixteen of them, guilty of crimes against the state, to apply to them in full measure those articles of the law which have been preferred against them by the prosecution.
“I demand that dogs gone mad should be shot – every one of them!”
- Chief Prosecutor Vyshinsky, Concluding remarks of the 1936 Moscow Trial
The development of the means of production has always found one of its most remarkable, and bestial, expressions in the development of new means of repression and deception. From the moment some new, groundbreaking discovery was made, it never took long before the human race began thinking about how they could best use it to subjugate one another. Despite this, every time it is a shock to see the familiar means of modern civilised life being employed for perfectly uncivilised ends. This is clearly an expression of the division of society into classes.
Presently, the clearest expression of this phenomenon is the war in Iraq. It is as if someone selected a random occupation army of any colonial conflict in the 19th or 20th centuries and dressed it up in all the trappings of 21st century Western civilization. From the Internet newspapers with “interactive electronic guides” for bombing campaigns and state terrorist roundups, to the satellites with which a fighter pilot can bomb a crowd of people from miles away in the style of a video game; from the glad, Generation X-callous way in which the Abu Ghraib guards treated their slaves (one journalist actually went so far as to call them “a symbol of their generation”), to the camera phones with which the pictures were taken, the war in Iraq can lay claim to being the best spokesman so far of its century in the field of imperialist savagery. Recently the occupiers have employed a new propaganda weapon which surpasses most of what we have seen so far in its brazenness.
One of the latest money-spinners in the world of show business is “reality” shows. Back in the mid 1990s, their introduction marked a qualitative change in the process of intellectual degeneration of the capitalist mass media. The media companies, in their evermore desperate thirst for quick profits, sunk their teeth right in the body of nations, dispensing with all creative attempts in favour of letting the assembled raw human material create the content by itself. Microcosms of the capitalist rat-race, in each case these shows actively encouraged the basest instincts. And wherever the organizers couldn’t pit the contestants against each other with sufficient savagery, there was always room for creative editing. The shows had, and have, no more to do with “reality” than did the Roman gladiatorial battles, and fulfil the same social function. Now this expression of Western “civilised” (I use the term with reservation) culture has received its “uncivilised” counterpart.
On April 4th, the Washington Post carried an article entitled “Actors In The Insurgency Are Reluctant TV Stars”. It reported:
“Iraq’s hottest new television program is a reality show. But the players are not there by choice. And they don’t win big bucks, a new spouse or a dream job.
Instead, all the characters on “Terrorism in the Hands of Justice” are captured suspected insurgents. And for more than a month, they have been riveting viewers with tales of how they killed, kidnapped, raped or beheaded other Iraqis, usually for a few hundred dollars per victim.
Seated before an Iraqi flag, the dejected and cowed prisoners answer questions from an off-camera inquisitor who mocks their behavior. Some sport bruised faces and black eyes. Far from appearing to be confident heroes battling U.S. occupation, they come across as gangsters.
“I watch the show every night, and I wait for it patiently, because it is very revealing,” said Abdul Kareem Abdulla, 42, a Baghdad shop owner. “For the first time, we saw those who claim to be jihadists as simple $50 murderers who would do everything in the name of Islam. Our religion is too lofty, noble and humane to have such thugs and killers. I wish they would hang them now, and in the same place where they did their crimes. They should never be given any mercy.”
Broadcast on al-Iraqiya, the state-run network set up by the U.S. occupation authority in 2003, “Terrorism in the Hands of Justice” has become one of most effective arrows in the government’s counterinsurgency propaganda quiver.
“It has shown the Iraqi people the reality of those insurgents, [that] they are criminals, killers, murderers, thieves,” Interior Minister Falah Naqib said last week.
Sabah Kadhim, an Interior Ministry spokesman, added, “The last few weeks have been incredible in terms of tips coming in from the public.”
Let us include another extract to illuminate the subject matter, this time from the International Herald Tribune.
“In the show’s opening montage, the theme song plays over images of hooded members of Tawhid and Jihad about to execute an American hostage in an orange jumpsuit, a bloodied corpse and finally two smiling Iraqi children holding paper signs that say “No to Terrorism.”
Then a police special forces trooper in camouflage uniform and red beret extols the work of “our brave, noble Iraqi law enforcement brothers.”
Who are the perpetrators of the daily bombings and ambushes that have killed hundreds of civilians, Iraqi police and soldiers?
According to the taped confessions the answer is, essentially: lowlifes.
The fighters almost never describe themselves as patriots or holy warriors; they say they fight for pay. Many of the men admit to homosexual acts, considered particularly shameful in Iraqi culture.
They frequently admit to rape and pedophilia, and clips often end with the unseen interrogator excoriating the detainee for having no honor.”
Even the most reactionary of the capitalist media have taken note of the brutalised condition of the “defendants”. The Boston Globe reports that the show features “a nightly parade of men, most with bruised faces”. Washington Post: “Some sport bruised faces and black eyes.” IHT: “The bruised, swollen faces and hunched shoulders of many of the suspects suggest that they have been beaten or tortured.”
“There is absolutely no motive for us to torture them,” stated Sabah Kadhim, an Interior Ministry spokesman, like a sick parody of the Western politicians who perpetually state that they have “no motive” for lying to the electorate. Kadhim also claimed that the programme was launched because Iraqis did not believe insurgents were being arrested (!): “Talking to people in the street, they say, ‘Is it really true?’...’Why don’t you show it?’... The demand for this came from the people.”
It couldn’t be clearer that these men have been tortured into false confessions. Even such a pro-capitalist organization as Human Rights Watch, which has for years served as the loyal mouthpiece of US imperialism and regularly circulates the blackest slanders about Venezuela, found it necessary to denounce the al-Iraqiya show in the strongest terms.
‘Hearts and minds’
The propaganda aims of US imperialism in the Middle East have been repeatedly frustrated by uncooperative networks such as the pan-Arab channel al-Jazeera, which has often given vent to anti-American feelings. During the first siege of Fallujah (in May 2004), al Jazeera repeatedly asserted that US Marines were killing hundreds of civilians. Donald Rumsfeld commented at the time:
“I can definitely say that what Al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable. You know what our forces do. They don’t go around killing hundreds of civilians. That’s just outrageous nonsense. It’s disgraceful what that station is doing.”
In other words the US war chief was intensely irritated at his lack of unlimited control over the airwaves. One recalls how one of the first targets of the Marines in the November assault was a hospital known for publishing reports of US war crimes, bombed and sacked as a “propaganda centre”. The same Rumsfeld: “Over and over again we’ve seen that Middle Eastern television channel Aljazeera that seems to have a wonderful way of being Johnny-on-the-spot a little too often for my taste”.
Al-Jazeera operations have been banned in Iraq for months on various pretexts, and media rights groups around the globe have demanded a lift of the ban. But it can still be taken in over the satellite dish. To combat this the US needed a popular Iraqi satellite network of its own.
Al-Iraqiya is the TV outlet of The Iraqi Media Network (IMN), which was conceived during the war preparations, and created and funded by the (American) Department of Defense. Al-Iraqiya reaches some 85% of Iraqis and is watched by about 40% according to the capitalist media.
On February 14, 2004, the US government expanded its operations by creating Al-Hurra (“The Free One”), a Virginia-based satellite channel that broadcasts smarmy US propaganda across the whole of the Middle East.
It should be understood that al-Jazeera is not a workers’ channel. It tends to support the Islamic fundamentalist “point of view” and in its own way fans the flames of religious hatred. But in this struggle between a psychotic killer and the man who captured his crime on film, we stand squarely in defence of the latter. All the Americans can offer to the Middle East is war, poverty, instability and – Islamic fundamentalism.
The face of “democracy”
The al-Iraqiya show broadcasts some of the most repulsive propaganda ever devised by American imperialism. The Americans try to wash their hands of the whole affair: “Nothing that appears on the television program is a violation of Iraqi law,” said one US official. But nobody will be fooled: the Iraqi media is no more independent of the USA than is the sham “government”. Al-Iraqiya takes its money from the DoD and is staffed with American professionals. Behind all of this vileness is the hand of US imperialism. Perhaps the most revealing insight into the reason for the show’s existence is unwittingly provided by the Iraqi state itself. The IHT reports:
“Colonel Adnan Abdurahman, the Iraqi police official in charge of producing taped confessions for the show, sends a camera crew wherever police commandos make a lot of arrests. In the last week his staff has filmed confessions in Mosul, Baquba and Baghdad.
‘Previously Iraqi people saw the resistance as fighting the occupation,’ said Abduhraman [sic]. ‘But when people saw how they talk, and the details of their actions, they became despicable in the eyes of Iraqi society.
“They're not resistance. None of them say they are fighting Americans. They are killing Iraqi National Guard and Iraqi police, only Iraqis’.”
Here we have it from a high-ranking policeman: According to him, the most notable feature of the show is that none of them say they are fighting Americans.
The Iraqi people regard the armed resistance to the foreign occupation as completely justified. In its attempt to bring down popular support for the resistance, the state is forced to portray them as not killing Americans, only Iraqis. The small layer of overt collaborators just blew their own cover.
The United States, and the people of Iraq, sink deeper into the bloody quagmire with each passing day. The US army is demoralised to the bone marrow. When the deranged leaders of the deranged American bourgeoisie made war inevitable, they opened the door to nothing less than a social, economic, military, ecological and moral Armageddon for millions of people. This show is only one, although a very stark, indicator of the whole Iraqi situation.
Let us end this piece with another quote from the Washington Post, so everybody can deduce for themselves what kind of conditions exist in Iraq.
In one recent episode, Ramzi Hashim Obeidi, a painter from Mosul who claimed to be a member of the Islamic radical group Ansar al-Islam, described his purported role in the 2003 car bomb assassination of a senior Shiite Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim, in Najaf.
Obeidi said he was part of a six-man team that was to “intercept U.S. forces if they came.” Others drove the explosives-laden vehicle the approximately 90 miles from Baghdad to the site of the attack. “It was very easy,” he said “It was an ambulance.”
Among the conspirators who planned the operation, Obeidi said, was Iraq’s most-wanted Islamic extremist, Abu Musab Zarqawi.
“You did not target just Hakim,” the police interrogator shouted at Obeidi. “You killed 110 people, some of them women and children... Do you call this jihad? What kind of jihad is this? To kill police, to behead police?”
Obeidi, who made no attempt to defend his actions, meekly replied, “Up to now, I don’t know what jihad is.”
On another segment, Qahtan Adnan Khalid, a prisoner who said he had been a policeman in the town of Samarra, had two black eyes and appeared to have difficulty breathing, occasionally wincing in pain.
Responding to each question with a deferential “Sir,” Khalid recounted how he had shot two kidnapped policeman in the head and was paid $200 for each killing.
“I advise the young to stay away from these paths,” he said at one point.
A few days after Khalid’s appearance, his body was delivered to his father’s home in Samarra, his family has said. Human Rights Minister Bakhtyar Amin said his office was investigating the death.”
This is the true face of Iraqi “democracy” – the Moscow Trials on satellite TV.