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Robert Fisk: Osama at 50

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    Robert Fisk on Osama bin Laden at 50, Iraqi Death Squads and Why the Middle East is More Dangerous Now Than in Past 30 Years Monday, March 5th, 2007
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      Robert Fisk on Osama bin Laden at 50, Iraqi Death Squads and Why the
      Middle East is More Dangerous Now Than in Past 30 Years
      Monday, March 5th, 2007

      Robert Fisk is a veteran war correspondent and one of the world's most
      experienced journalists covering the Middle East. He has reported from
      across the Arab world for the past thirty years. His latest book is
      "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East." He
      joins us in our Firehouse studio. [includes rush transcript]

      In Iraq, at least 26 people died today when a suicide bomber struck a
      busy commercial district in Baghdad. Over 50 people were injured. In
      other reported violence, gunmen killed five people when they opened
      fire on Shia pilgrims in two separate incidents around the capital.
      Elsewhere in Bagdad, police said that since Saturday, they had found
      20 bodies of men who were believed to be victims of Shiite death squads
      The latest news comes as more than one thousand US and Iraqi troops
      have moved into the Shiite stronghold of Sadr city to conduct
      house-to-house searches and street patrols. It marked the largest
      operation into the area in more than three years.

      Meanwhile in southern Iraq, British-led troops have uncovered an Iraqi
      government facility in Basra where Shiite forces were torturing
      prisoners and producing bomb-making equipment. The torture was going
      on inside the local headquarters of the Iraqi interior ministry"s
      domestic intelligence agency.

      The news comes amid the backdrop of a planned security conference on
      the tenth of March in Iraq. The United States says it will attend the
      talks that include both Syria and Iran.

      Robert Fisk is a veteran war correspondent and one of the world"s most
      experienced journalists covering the Middle East. He has reported from
      across the Arab world for the past thirty years. He was in Iraq in the
      1980s during the Iran-Iraq war, in the early 1990s during the Persian
      Gulf War and most recently during the U.S. invasion and occupation. He
      has also reported on the civil wars in Algeria and Lebanon, the
      Iranian revolution, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and Israel"s
      occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

      Robert Fisk joins me in our firehouse studio.

      Robert Fisk, chief Middle East correspondent for the London
      Independent. He is the author of several books, his latest is "The
      Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East."
      AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk is a veteran war correspondent, one of
      the world's most experienced journalists in the Middle East. He has
      reported from across the Arab world for the past thirty years. He was
      in Iraq in the '80s during the Iran-Iraq War, in the early '90s during
      the Persian Gulf War, and most recently during the US invasion and
      occupation. He has also reported on civil wars in Algeria and Lebanon,
      the Iranian revolution, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and
      Israel's occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Robert Fisk joins me
      here in our firehouse studio for the hour. Welcome to Democracy Now!

      ROBERT FISK: You're making me feel old, Amy. All these talks of all
      the civil wars I've covered, I'm beginning to think it's time I packed
      it all in.

      AMY GOODMAN: Well, congratulations also on your 2006 Lannan Lifetime
      Achievement Prize for Cultural Freedom.

      ROBERT FISK: Thanks very much, indeed. Yeah.

      AMY GOODMAN: You said last night at a large event at Town Hall in New
      York, where you were honored and you spoke, that you consider the
      award important as a flak jacket. Explain.

      ROBERT FISK: Well, if you report the Middle East and you do it fairly
      and honorably and you criticize everyone, and that includes Israel,
      you're going to get the sticks and stones, sometimes literally. You
      get a lot of flak. And when a journalist gets an honor like the Lannan
      Award or a journalistic award in Britain, OK, it's flattering, it's
      nice. All journalists like that. But particularly in the Middle East,
      it's a way of showing that there are other people in the West who say,
      "You're doing the right job. Keep it up."

      And it's also a lesson to those critics, particularly the particularly
      venomous ones, and you and I could think of them straightaway, who try
      to destroy your career by lying about you, by accusing you of being
      anti-Semitic, anti-Arab, you name it. It's a way of saying, "Well,
      hold on a second. Look at this list of awards. Do you think these
      people are all the same? Do you not realize that this was for some
      reason?" So, it is a flak jacket. It's a protection for journalists
      when we get awards for reporting in the Middle East, particularly in
      the Middle East.

      AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, your last piece is about bin Laden hitting

      ROBERT FISK: Yes. Well, I must say I did sort of mention in the same
      piece that I think bin Laden is pretty irrelevant now. You know, his
      creation is al-Qaeda, and it exists. It's in being. The monster is
      born. Chasing bin Laden now, if indeed we are chasing bin Laden now,
      is a bit like chasing nuclear scientists and arresting them all after
      the invention of the atom bomb. The atom bomb exists. You can't
      deconstruct it. So arresting the nuclear scientists won't do any good.

      And in a sense, you see, the same applies with bin Laden. His
      "achievement" -- I put that in quotation marks -- in his eyes, is the
      creation of al-Qaeda. Never before have we had a violent institution
      of this kind. And the only way to overcome it is to produce some
      justice, which, of course, we don't want to do. We want more and more
      violence against al-Qaeda, which, of course, helps al-Qaeda. But the
      fact of the matter is that I think bin Laden has achieved, in his
      mind, what he wants. And now, if he dies of kidney failure, which I
      don't think he's going to do -- I don't believe these stories -- or
      whether he falls off a cliff or gets bombed or arrested, I think it's
      irrelevant, totally irrelevant.

      AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your interviews with Osama bin Laden. How many
      did you do?

      ROBERT FISK: I did three.

      AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the first one.

      ROBERT FISK: Well, the first one was in Sudan. A Saudi friend of his,
      who had fought with him against the Soviets in Afghanistan, who, mind
      you -- he was now a journalist -- he met me at an Islamic conference
      in Khartoum, and one Sunday morning, he said, "Robert, I want you to
      come and meet someone." And for him, it was a bit of a joke. He knew
      bin Laden was out in the desert, where bin Laden's construction teams
      -- he was, of course, in the construction business, as most his family
      were -- had been building a new road from a little village to the main
      highway between Port Sudan and Khartoum to link up so that the
      villagers could take part in the national economy.

      AMY GOODMAN: Bin Laden's father was a great Yemeni construction
      magnate in Saudi Arabia?

      ROBERT FISK: A billionaire so, yes. And, indeed, most of bin Laden's
      -- or some of bin Laden's money came from the construction business.
      He built the roads upon which the Afghan guerrillas took tanks to
      fight the Russians. I mean, I actually went in an air raid shelter
      twenty-five feet high, built into the living rock of a mountain in
      Afghanistan, built by bin Laden during the Russian war, next to a camp
      built by the CIA, of course.

      But, no, I went out with this guy. We went across the desert past
      pyramids you've never seen before. I mean, they're not even in
      guidebooks. And we ended up in this desert village, and there was this
      man in this long white robe with all these kids dancing in front of
      him and people slaughtering chickens and goats and sheep. And my
      journalist friend, who knew bin Laden well, went up and spoke to him
      in his ear. And I saw bin Laden's eyes flick towards me with palpable
      concern. He had never met a Western journalist before. And I was
      invited to meet him. I shook hands with him, and he thought I was
      going to ask him about terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror,
      because he was already being implicated. There were comments by State
      Department officials that bin Laden was plotting world terror.

      AMY GOODMAN: This is 1993.

      ROBERT FISK: Yes. Pretty accurate, actually, if you think about it.
      But, anyway, that's what was happening. So anyway, I wasn't really
      interested in this. You know, my colleagues had written all this
      terror, terror, terror stuff. I wanted to know what created bin Laden
      during the war with the Russians, what happened to him, because, you
      know, the Saudis wanted to send a Saudi prince to lead an Arab legion
      against the Soviet infidels. Unfortunately, the Saudi princes were
      keener on living in Monte Carlo than going to Afghanistan, and bin
      Laden was the man who led the Arab legion.

      So I said to him, "What was it like fighting the Russians? Tell me
      about fighting the Russians." And he talked for some time about the
      large number of his supporters -- there wasn't al-Qaeda in existence
      then -- a large number of Arab fighters who died. There's a mass grave
      near Jalalabad -- he told me exactly where it was -- with hundreds of
      his own fighters buried in it. And then he recalled an attack on a
      Russian firebase, a Russian artillery position in Nangarhar province
      -- capital is Jalalabad. And he said, "As we were advancing, a mortar
      shell fell at my feet." And he waited for it to explode and kill him.
      And he said, "I felt sakina, a calmness" -- it's a religious idea that
      you are not worried about death, you are outside this world, you are
      linked in with God and the idea of another world, another life. And
      the mortar shell didn't explode. There must be many people who wish
      that it had, but it didn't.

      And, obviously, it was quite clear talking to him that this was a very
      important moment in his life. He had conquered fear and the fear of
      death. And once you do that, you start discovering perhaps that you
      love death, but it's not the same. You remember the famous phrase we
      always hear from suicide bombers, "You love life, we love death,"
      which is the most frightening thing you can hear. And I think at that
      moment, that during that attack on the Russians -- I mean, it was a
      Soviet base, a Soviet army base -- I think that must have changed him
      in some way. But, you know, as I saw him each time, he changed, too. I
      mean, he was growing older.

      AMY GOODMAN: You're older than him?

      ROBERT FISK: Yeah, I'm about ten years older than him. Yes, that's
      right. I don't think -- I mean, he always -- we never discussed age,
      but, I mean, he must have guessed I was slightly older than him. He
      was always very courteous towards me. And when he stopped to eat, I
      would sit on the ground with the al-Qaeda fighters and eat yoghurt and
      drink tea with him. He broke off occasionally to pray, as well, which
      I, of course, didn't do with him.

      But certainly, the next time I met him in Afghanistan, he was a much
      more angry man. He was filled with fury at the corruption of the Saudi
      royal family. He went into great detail on how many millions of
      dollars they stole on this occasion, how many princes have taken these
      dollars, and so on. And it looked at that stage as if what he really
      wanted to do was to overthrow the Saudi royal family and become caliph
      of Arabia. He didn't say that, but I suspect. I mean, Arabia is what
      he's interested in. At the end of the day, it's Arabia, not because of
      oil, but because of the holy places of Mecca and Medina and his own
      religious Salafi beliefs.

      But he was already beginning to talk about people having dreams. You
      know, in the Wahhabi sect, people believe in what I call "dreamology."
      They think that when they have a dream, it's a message coming from
      somewhere outside the world. Obviously, you know, you can interpret
      the Prophet Muhammad's receiving the message of God as being in a kind
      of trance or a dream. Remember, the first message he received, he
      talked about how he was wrapped in, and it was felt tight -- that an
      angel wrapped him and squeezed him tight. And I think that bin Laden
      believes in dreams. I think a lot of al-Qaeda people do. They have
      ideas that come to them. We don't. We believe that this is an inactive
      but still living brain taking over, just things come through like
      stars pass through the heavens, but I think they interpret them or
      want to interpret them, which is a very -- something we basically gave
      up in the Middle Ages in Europe.

      AMY GOODMAN: We have to break, but when we come back, tell us what he
      told you on that mountaintop in Afghanistan. We're talking to Robert
      Fisk, the veteran war correspondent. His latest book, The Great War
      for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, has just come out
      in paperback. His earlier book, Pity the Nation: The Abduction of
      Lebanon, is coming out in French, and he is traveling to Paris today
      for the launch of the book there. Stay with us.


      AMY GOODMAN: We continue with Robert Fisk, chief Middle East
      correspondent for The Independent of London, voted best foreign
      correspondent for years by British reporters and editors. His latest
      book is called The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the
      Middle East. Robert, you're talking about mountaintop in Afghanistan
      with Osama bin Laden.

      ROBERT FISK: Well, the last time I saw him, which was '97 -- he did
      want to see me after 9/11, but I couldn't reach him. An American air
      raid was on the road in front of me on my way to see him. But the last
      time I saw him, he had moved from his hatred of the Saudis, which was
      still there, into a quite clear fury at the United States. He was
      starting to talk about them as being crusaders.

      And, in fact, the last words he said to me, as we sat in a very
      freezing mountaintop -- I spent the night with his al-Qaeda people in
      a tent sleeping. I woke up with ice in my hair. And the last words he
      said to me, and I have my notebooks, which, of course, I will research
      for this book, and his words were, "Mr. Robert, from this mountain
      upon which we are sitting, we destroyed the Soviet army and helped to
      destroy the Soviet Union," which was an element of truth, though
      obviously a usual bin Laden exaggeration. And then he said, "and I
      pray to God that He permits us to turn America into a shadow of
      itself." Those were his words. And in my notebook, which I actually
      took these words down in, I put two lines on each side of the quote.
      At the time, I wrote, "Rhetoric?" It wasn't, of course.

      And I remember that, you know, on 9/11, I said before, I think, to
      you, that I was crossing the Atlantic that day. The plane turned
      around, and I got back to Europe and saw, you know, the biblical
      crashing of the Twin Towers. I remember thinking, well, New York is
      now a shadow of itself, all that dust and fog going across the city. I
      was pretty convinced, from the start, that bin Laden was involved. I
      still am, of course.

      AMY GOODMAN: You have chosen a section of your book --

      ROBERT FISK: Highly subversive, highly subversive section.

      AMY GOODMAN: -- The Great War for Civilisation, to read, deleting any
      curses or anything like that, if you could read a piece.

      ROBERT FISK: I've chosen a piece that has no bad language, which is
      permitted on British television, but not on American television. Yes,
      it fits in rather well with the news today and what you've just been
      talking about. It's about the issue of our rationale of how we behave
      in Iraq.

      [reading] "The Americans and British benefited from these accounts of
      terror under Saddam. Would you rather he was still here in Iraq
      torturing and gassing his own people? they would ask. Don't you think
      we did a good thing by getting rid of him? All this, of course,
      because the original reasons for the invasion -- Saddam's possession
      of weapons of mass destruction, his links with the outrages of
      September 11th, Mr. Blair's 45-minute warning -- turned out to be
      lies. But it was a dark comparison that Bush and Blair were making. If
      Saddam's immorality and wickedness had to be the yardstick against
      which all of our own iniquities were judged, what did that say about
      us? If Saddam's regime was to be the moral compass to define our
      actions, how bad -- how iniquitous -- did that allow us to be? Saddam
      tortured and executed women in Abu Ghraib. We only sexually abused
      prisoners and killed a few of them and murdered some suspects in
      Bagram in Afghanistan and subjected them to inhuman treatment in
      Guantanamo. Saddam was much worse. And thus it became inevitable that
      the symbol of Saddam's shame -- the prison at Abu Ghraib --
      subsequently became the symbol of our shame, too.

      "What was interesting was the vastly different reaction in East and
      West to our abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan. We `civilised' Westerners
      were shocked at the dog-biting and humiliations and torture `our' men
      and women administered to the inmates. Iraqis were outraged, but not
      shocked. Their friends and relatives -- some of whom have been locked
      up by the Americans -- had long ago told them of the revolting
      behaviour of the American guards. They weren't surprised by those
      iconic photographs. They already knew.

      "By early 2004, an army of thousands of mercenaries had appeared on
      the streets of Iraq's major cities, many of them former British and
      American soldiers hired by the occupying Anglo-American authorities
      and by dozens of companies who feared for the lives of their employees
      in Baghdad The heavily armed Britons working for well over 300
      security firms in Iraq now outnumbered Britain's 8,000-strong army in
      the south of the country. Although major US and British security
      companies were operating in Iraq, dozens of small firms also set up
      shop with little vetting of their employees and few rules of
      engagement. Many of the Britons were former SAS soldiers -- hundreds
      of former American Special Forces men were also in the country --
      while armed South Africans were also working for the occupation

      "The presence in Iraq of so many thousands of Western mercenaries --
      or `security contractors,' as the American press coyly referred to
      them -- said as much about America's fear of taking military
      casualties as it did about the multi-million-pound security industry
      now milking the coffers of the US and British governments. Security
      firms were escorting convoys on the highways of Iraq. Armed
      plain-clothes men from an American company were guarding US troops at
      night inside the former presidential palace where Paul Bremer had his
      headquarters. In other words, security companies were now guarding the
      occupation troops. When a US helicopter crashed near Fallujah in 2003,
      it was an American security company that took control of the area and
      began rescue operations. Needless to say, casualties among the
      mercenaries were not included in the regular body count put out by the
      occupation authorities."

      The latest figure that I have as a journalist now is that we now have
      in Iraq 120,000 Westerner mercenaries. That's almost equal to the
      total number of American troops.

      AMY GOODMAN: And in your experience in Iraq, --

      ROBERT FISK: Ouch.

      AMY GOODMAN: -- having been there, how much did you run into these

      ROBERT FISK: Oh, they would turn up and stay in the same hotel I was
      in. They turned up during checkpoints on roads, sometimes wearing
      hoods or masks. Why? Why hoods? Why masks? What were they doing? I
      would come across them driving vehicles through the streets of
      Baghdad, guns pointing out the window. "Get out of the way! Get out of
      the way! Get out of the way!" Tch-tch-tch-tch-tch, in the air. Very
      similar to the same gangs that Saddam used to use for security
      purposes to get people out of the way in vehicles. In fact, the way in
      which the occupation authorities have sealed off vast areas of Baghdad
      with walls is classic. It wasn't as bad under Saddam. There weren't so
      many walls, but it's very similar to the same practice that Saddam's
      regime used. In fact, in many ways, what we do has become a kind of
      pale mirror of the regime we got rid of. You know, hanging people and
      their heads come off when you hang them, this is incredible.

      AMY GOODMAN: Congressman John Murtha, the former Marine who basically
      channeled the Pentagon and came out early on -- he was first for the
      war, came out against and called for withdrawal -- said yesterday that
      Abu Ghraib -- that the US military should destroy Abu Ghraib, should
      pull the troops out of Saddam's palaces and should close Guantanamo.

      ROBERT FISK: Look, we've been through Abu Ghraib so often. First of
      all, it was liberated, and we all went in and saw the hangman's noose
      and where Saddam's people were executed. Then they announced they
      would have to use it briefly as a prison. I said -- immediately I went
      to prison. I said, "They'll use it as a prison again," because they
      always do, and they did. And then, one Iraqi historian said it should
      be turned into a museum of Saddam's horror. This is Kanan Makiya, of
      course. And then, after the abuses were made photographically evident
      at Abu Ghraib, it was announced by the then-Iraqi government that it
      was going to be bulldozed to the ground. And then it was announced
      that, after all, it was still needed as a prison, so it would stay as
      a prison for more abuses, perhaps. And now, again, we have this
      suggestion it should be razed to the ground. Later on, it will be
      stated that it will be still needed as a prison. Then we'll hear yet
      again that it has to be razed to the ground. You don't realize, unless
      you go to Iraq, that this is a circular track. All the stories we
      report, we reported last year, and we're going to report them again
      next year, believe me.

      AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Dick Cheney. The so-called
      coalition of the willing in Iraq continues to shrink. Two members
      recently announced they're withdrawing troops. Denmark says its
      battalion will pull out of Iraq by August and increase its troop
      presence in Afghanistan. This followed British Prime Minister Tony
      Blair's announcement of a pending withdrawal of 1,600 British troops
      from Iraq. After Blair made the announcement, Vice President Dick
      Cheney issued what some called a tacit criticism of Britain's withdrawal.

      VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I want you to know that the American
      people will not support a policy of retreat. We want to complete the
      mission. We want to get it done right. And then we want to return home
      with honor.

      AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Dick Cheney.

      ROBERT FISK: Well, you've got to remember that at one point it looked
      as if the Brits might pull out of the original invasion, and Rumsfeld
      made a statement rather similar to Cheney's, saying, well, we can do
      it without them. You know, I mean, I'm still wondering what on earth
      Britain is doing in Iraq and how we ever got into it. You know, one of
      the extraordinary things at the moment about both Iraq and Afghanistan
      is that our leaderships, British just as much as Americans', have lied
      continually. They've lied about weapons of mass destruction, links
      between Saddam and al-Qaeda, 45-minute warnings, as I said.

      But this is the first war I've ever covered in which the leadership in
      the West bases its policies on its own lies. I mean, it's one thing to
      lie to the people, and then you have your own policy of how to pursue
      a war, but to pursue the war on the basis of the lies you're telling
      the people, this is an entirely new concept in war and strategy in
      foreign policy. I've never seen it before.

      You know, you have Blair standing up now in the British parliament --
      well, less and less, thank goodness; I mean, soon he's going, because
      of Iraq, of course, and because of his relationship with Bush-- and he
      keeps saying the same thing over and over again: "I absolutely and
      completely believe I was right." And that's not good enough. You know,
      we can all believe we're right. We can jump off the Empire State
      Building believing we can fly, but we won't fly, will we? And Blair
      actually thinks that his conviction, his own self-regard, is
      sufficient to make up for the factual mistakes that he makes. It's OK,
      because he really believed it. That's not the way you go to war.

      AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think Tony Blair is pulling these troops out,
      although at the same time increasing troops in Afghanistan, and what
      do you think of that?

      ROBERT FISK: I'll tell you why I think he's doing it. I think that the
      British military is having serious morale problems. I think that the
      British military commanders are getting to a point where they're going
      to say, "We can't do this anymore. We're going to resign." When the
      Chief of Staff, Dannatt, made his statement at the Ministry of Defense
      about four months ago, in which he said, "Look, the longer we stay
      there, the more we're exacerbating the situation," it was a great
      shock for Blair. This was not a retired officer like Mike Jackson, who
      I think very cowardly did not say those things when he was in office.
      This was a serving -- this was the guy at the top of the British army,
      giving a clear warning: watch out.

      And, you know, in Afghanistan, the British are in a very serious
      position. They've got units of only twelve or fifteen men in little
      villages, and they're being attacked in company strength by the
      Taliban, very serious. I mean, I met a British soldier in London. I
      was giving a talk at the Dorchester about a week and a half ago. I was
      in London. A British officer was talking to me. He said, "You don't
      realize how we are being overwhelmed in Afghanistan."

      There was a very interesting comment from the British Ministry of
      Defense about a month ago -- or five or six weeks ago. They said
      British troops are now in the most violent combat they've experienced
      since the Korean War. And British defense correspondents sort of put
      this up as a great sign: our chaps are fighting just like in Korea.
      And I thought, hang on a minute, that's not the point. What happened
      in Korea? The Gloucestershire Regiment were overwhelmed by millions of
      Chinese troops crossing the Yalu River. We couldn't stand up to the
      vast numbers of soldiers that were coming in from the north in Korea.
      They were just overrunning us, totally. And what was happening, I
      realized immediately, in Afghanistan is that soldiers were being so
      totally outnumbered, they were having to retreat out of villages. In
      one case, I understand, twelve British troops in a school in a village
      were facing 300 Taliban and had to call in US air strikes to destroy
      the rest of the village to save themselves.

      You know, one story, which has not really come out in the American
      press -- I know it's a fact, because I've investigated it fully in
      Iraq -- is that in the first battle of Fallujah -- remember, when
      there was a ceasefire and then the Iraqis came back, then they had the
      second battle and they took the city and managed to destroy much of it
      -- in the first battle of Fallujah, there were twelve US Marines
      guarding the mayor's office at Ramadi, the neighboring city to the
      west, and they were attacked by hundreds of Iraqi insurgents, and that
      twelve-man US Marine unit was liquidated. They were totally
      eliminated. They were killed, all of them. They were wiped out. And
      that is not a story that's gotten the front page, as far as I know, of
      the New York Times, but that's what happened. So the dangers you see
      that we're now facing, very much -- I don't mean to make too facile a
      comparison -- very much the same dangers that the crusaders faced with
      overwhelming force from the Muslim armies of the 12th century, is that
      the local populations are now so full of fury and anger against us
      that they are attacking us in their hundreds, overwhelming force.

      AMY GOODMAN: This latest news in Basra, British-led troops have
      uncovered an Iraqi government facility where Shia forces were
      torturing prisoners and producing bomb-making equipment?

      ROBERT FISK: Look, everything's getting better in Basra. That's why
      we're leaving, right? I mean, here we go again. You know, my colleague
      Patrick Cockburn wrote a very good piece in Iraq not long ago. He said
      the problem with British statements, or particularly Blair, who's
      saying everything is getting better, is that to prove them wrong, you
      have to go to places where you will have your throat cut. So you can't
      prove him wrong, so it's OK, he'll get away with it.

      Look, there's no doubt that the Iraqi interior ministry is totally --
      I mean, it's impregnated with the insurgency, Shiite insurgency, Sunni
      and other parts. You know, from the very beginning, we used to have
      these reports: men in police uniform have kidnapped Margaret Hassan,
      men in army uniform besieged a police station, you know? And I used to
      say, hang on, there's not a Wal-Mart factory in Fallujah with
      made-to-measure police uniforms. Bring in 300 more men, we've got the
      -- no, these are policemen. These are Iraqi soldiers. The Iraqi
      security forces have been totally infiltrated by the insurgents of
      both sides. That includes interior ministry, prisons, police stations.
      This idea, oh, we're going to build up the Iraqi forces until they can
      take over -- you know, I love that line from Blair: from now onwards
      Iraqis in Basra will write their own history. Yeah, they sure will,
      when we go. It's incredible the way they get away with it, these people.

      AMY GOODMAN: And the latest news out of Afghanistan, thousands of
      angry demonstrators taking to the streets after US forces were
      involved in a panicked shooting, which left sixteen civilians dead and
      twenty-three injured -- at least that's how it was described -- panic
      shooting in The Independent.

      ROBERT FISK: No photos, please. That's what you were talking about
      also. We will delete you if you take pictures. Look, this is happening
      over and over again in Baghdad. A car blows up, a suicide bomber
      attacks, so everyone in the area is shot at. You know, at the very
      beginning of the invasion, when the Americans reached Baghdad, there
      was a frightening circumstance of Highway 11, I think it was. I went
      there afterwards, and a US tank column was moving down the road. They
      were ambushed, and the tank commander believed that every car on the
      road was a potential suicide car, and he ordered his men to fire at
      every civilian car. So when I got to the scene, there were smoking
      cars. There were women, their clothes blasted off them, naked in the
      backs of vehicles, children lying with rugs over them, dead beside the
      road. It was a massacre. Now, there was an ambush by the Iraqis. The
      Americans were attacked there, but their response was to kill
      everything in sight. And I actually talked to the US tank commander --
      he's quoted in my book by name -- who said, "Look, I have to defend my
      men. I have a duty to defend my men. I'm sorry if innocent people get

      AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Robert Fisk, chief Middle East
      correspondent for The Independent of London. His latest book is The
      Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. We'll be
      back with him in a minute.


      AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk is our guest, chief Middle East correspondent
      for The Independent of London. Robert, you head to Paris today for the
      French edition of Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon, then
      Cairo and Egypt for the Arabic edition coming out of The Great War for

      ROBERT FISK: Yes. It goes onto the crack of doom. We also have, by the
      way, a Bosnian edition next year coming out in Sarajevo. There's
      sixteen foreign language editions now.

      AMY GOODMAN: But then, you pack up everything and you start your
      Middle East reporting again.

      ROBERT FISK: Well, I'm still doing Middle East reporting. I mean, I
      was in Lebanon for the violence in the streets, of course, in January.
      Yeah, from about July onwards, I will be full-time back Afghanistan
      and Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, etc.

      AMY GOODMAN: You mention Lebanon. Let's talk about the situation there
      today. This is where you have been based for the last thirty years.

      ROBERT FISK: Thirty-one, almost, now, yeah. Yes, I mean, I was, you
      know, like I suppose most Lebanese, I felt, up until July the 12th,
      the beginning of the war between Hezbollah and the Israelis last
      summer, that maybe Lebanon had a chance. You know, it was being
      rebuilt. There wasn't enough money trickling down from the top to the
      bottom; it was still a lopsided society with the Shiites being the
      poor and the oppressed as usual. But I thought until we came across --
      you know, even when the Shiites pulled out of the government, which
      was a very serious matter because it meant that once again we were
      emphasizing the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics, that there
      might be some form of compromise.

      But once we had that strike, which turned so violent -- you know, I
      turned up on Corniche Mazraa in the western part of Beirut, and there
      must have been 7,000 people, Muslims, Shiites and Sunnis, chucking
      rocks and stones at each other. There were seven Lebanese soldiers
      trying to get between them. I went with them taking pictures. I mean,
      the stones were bouncing off the soldiers. People were chucking rocks
      from the top of sixteen-story buildings. It was very dangerous. I
      thought, civil war was going to restart that day.

      And one of the dangerous things at that point was that the young
      people who were involved were too young to remember the civil war,
      which of course actually ended in 1990. They might have a faint
      memory. They would have heard their parents talking about it. And they
      didn't realize how quickly it would escalate, how quickly you could
      deteriorate. Even Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah -- well, the Hezbollah is a
      very disciplined organization, of course -- was shocked at the speed
      with which his strike, his civil disobedience strike, descended into
      total street violence. Then, of course, two days later, guns came on
      the streets.

      Very dangerous situation, because it keeps going back into a sort of
      semi-denial of the political crisis. We think, OK, well, Lebanon is
      out of the news, it's OK again. But the reality is that Lebanon is in
      great danger of splintering apart again. And I went out, a short time,
      a short while ago, before I came to America, for dinner in a Sunni
      area of Beirut. It's a mixed area, but mostly Sunni, and I remember
      saying, well, how are you getting on with your Shiite neighbors these
      days? And the woman at the table said, well, actually, most of them
      have gone on holiday. They've left their keys with their neighbors.
      They have gone to stay with relatives elsewhere.

      Now, that's how it begins. That's how it happened in Baghdad, people
      moving out of Sunni areas, people moving out of Shiite areas, if
      they're a different religion. One of the frightening things that
      happened during those January days of violence, including the area
      where there was shooting used, is that the scenes of street combat
      were on the same green line of the civil war. In other words, the old
      fracture between east and west, Beirut and parts of West Beirut,
      reopened at the exact -- Hazmieh -- exactly the same point. I spent
      parts of the civil war at Hazmieh watching the fighting, and there, on
      the same piece of road, it broke apart again. It's like, you know, you
      keep stitching it up, and it comes undone.

      AMY GOODMAN: What about Seymour Hersh's report, where he says that the
      Bush administration and Saudi Arabia are pumping money for covert
      operations in many areas of the Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria
      and Iran, in an effort to strengthen Saudi-supported Sunni Islam
      groups and weaken Iranian-backed Shiites. Some of the covert money has
      been given to jihadist groups in Lebanon with ties to al-Qaeda.

      ROBERT FISK: Look, Seymour Hersh said that we were going to invade
      Iraq, and I thought we wouldn't, and he was right and I was wrong. So
      when Seymour Hersh says we're going to bombard Iran, I remain silent.
      When Seymour Hersh tells me -- he was in Beirut, of course; he met
      Nasrallah there -- that we're pumping money into Sunni extremist
      groups, I think, well, hang on a second, he got it right and I got it
      wrong on Iraq.

      Look, the truth of the matter is that these various organizations --
      and there are some al-Qaeda-type groups, groupuscules, tiny ones in
      Lebanon, and I've met them -- they don't need money from outside.
      They've got money. Everyone in Lebanon who's got weapons has money.
      It's like the same nonsense: we talk about how the Iranians are
      teaching the Iraqi Shiite insurgents to make bombs. Iraqi insurgents
      know how to make bombs. They don't need the Iranians to come and teach
      them. I don't think a lot of money is reaching these people. What I do
      think is that these various extreme groups are quite possibly being
      mobilized or encouraged by elements within the -- what we now call the
      American-supported Lebanese government -- what a kiss of death that is
      for the Siniora government -- encouraged to remain where they are and
      to be available in certain circumstances.

      You know, a large number of the killings that have taken place in
      Beirut are not necessarily carried out by the Syrians. Hariri, I
      think, was a Syrian-engineered plot, yes. But, for example, Pierre
      Gemayel's murder, a lot of Lebanese say, well, maybe it was another
      Christian group behind that. One of the things you find in Lebanon is
      that there are various groups, some of them Palestinian -- we call
      them extremists or terrorists, whatever you like -- who are available
      to help anyone. They can make temporary alliances. They don't need to
      be given $5 million on the quiet by someone with American money.

      The real danger now, you see, is that with an ideological government
      like you have and like we, I suppose, think we have, we constantly
      want to assist people who will join us in our campaign. You can go
      back to Afghanistan. We wanted the warlords on our side against bin
      Laden. Now we're saddled with the warlords, which is why we can't
      stamp out the opium trade or the drugs trade. In Iraq, we started --

      AMY GOODMAN: Explain that, for people who may not understand the
      significance of drugs in Afghanistan.

      ROBERT FISK: We basically used the Northern Alliance, Mujahideen, the
      non-Taliban, anti-Taliban alliance of guerrillas, who had fought a
      terrible, terrifying civil war of rape and murder in Kabul earlier, to
      combat on the ground the Talibans, so that we didn't lose so many
      soldiers. The principle of war at the moment is that they die and we
      live, not the other way around or not both. And because then, in order
      to continue the control of Afghanistan, which we're now losing in the
      south, we wanted to continue that control without casualties, we
      continued to employ with millions and millions of dollars the same
      warlords who had been running the poppy trade, as well as fighting
      Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

      You know, we forget that the UN in the beginning of 2001 said that the
      drugs exports of Afghanistan had fallen by 94% because the Taliban had
      banned drugs. The Tony Blair version is that Taliban were in the drugs
      trade and it was flourishing, and now it's flourishing again. Once
      again, the narrative of history is simply wrong. That's not what

      But in all these various -- Iraq, again, who is funding the interior
      ministry militiamen who are murdering people? The interior ministry is
      funded by us. We use local gunmen and murderers to do our job for us
      and save our soldiers' lives, not very successfully, but that's what
      we do. And, of course, we'll do the same if necessary in Lebanon with
      all these unsavory groups, all of whom have got blood on their hands.
      I mean, there's one Lebanese politician -- he's a friend of mine, I
      know him very well -- who ran a militia during the civil war, which
      brutally tortured its opponents, committed war crimes, and he met
      Condoleezza Rice a few days ago. I mean, you know, we will make
      friends with those who want to help us and whom we think are worthy of
      our support on the short term. And if -- I mean, who did bin Laden
      used to work for when he was fighting the Russians? Us, you know? I
      mean, we use these unsavory -- who was Saddam working for for most of
      his rule? Us. Who gave him the gas? The components came from the
      United States.

      AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Lebanon and to Palestine and
      Israel and to go to the issue of --

      ROBERT FISK: Palestine doesn't exist, unless you put quotation marks
      around it, Amy. There is no state of Palestine. And I don't think
      there is going to be.

      AMY GOODMAN: Why not?

      ROBERT FISK: Unless the Palestinians can have a cohesive state without
      Jewish settlements dotted through it and have East Jerusalem as a
      capital, I cannot see there ever being a Palestinian state, in
      reality. I mean, you can print stamps or bank notes, and have Ramallah
      as your temporary capital. But unless we see UN Security Council
      Resolution 242 abided by by all sides --

      AMY GOODMAN: Which says?

      ROBERT FISK: Retreat of Israeli forces from territories occupied in
      the '67 War, in return for security of all states in the area,
      including, of course, Israel, and the absolute fact that you cannot
      legally acquire land through war. It is illegal to acquire land
      through war, which means the settlements or colonies for Jews and Jews
      only on Arab land are internationally illegal. Bush has already said
      there are facts on the grounds that won't be changed. He's thus said
      that these illegal settlements can remain. He's effectively torn up
      242 a couple of years ago. Well, I suppose we can still, you know,
      have another 242 Resolution. It will be 17- or 18-something-or-other.
      But 242 remains. It was supposed to be the basis of the Oslo
      Agreement, which failed. It failed because we didn't abide by 242.

      Unless Israel goes back to its international frontiers, or at least
      the '67 frontiers, I don't think there's going to be peace between
      Palestinians and Israelis, and I don't think there's going to be a
      Palestine. And most Palestinians realize this. It's only we, who sit
      in our beautiful homes in New York or London or wherever in the West
      -- or mine's in Beirut, but that's a different matter -- who can talk
      about, oh, a one-state solution, a two-state solution, putting the
      peace process -- was the cliché -- back on track. Now, it's a road
      map. You can't put a road back on track, so I'm sure we'll invent a
      new cliché for that. But this is woeful. It's more self-delusion by
      us. It's like Bush saying that the Israelis won the war against the
      Hezbollah. I'm not sure the Hezbollah did, but the Israelis certainly
      didn't. Here again, we're living on our own lies.

      AMY GOODMAN: CBS reported just in the last few weeks, the UN estimates
      Israel dropped as many as four million bomblets in southern Lebanon
      during last year's war with Hezbollah, with as many as 40% failing to
      explode on impact.

      ROBERT FISK: Which is why thirty-four Lebanese have been killed, let
      alone wounded, since the war ended, by those bomblets. Most of them of
      course are civilians, or all are civilians, except for one soldier who
      was trying to defuse one. And many of those civilians, of course, are
      children, because they think they are toys. They pick them up. I've
      actually walked across a field and seen them lying there. Yes, and
      those bomblets were dropped after the ceasefire hour was stated, when
      the Israelis knew the war was going to end, and they soaked the ground
      with those bombs, yes.

      AMY GOODMAN: In The Great War for Civilisation, you talk about the
      weapons manufacturers. What about the cluster bomb manufacturers?

      ROBERT FISK: Well, you know, last night when I was speaking at Town
      Hall in New York, and I don't like to cheerlead these things, because
      I'm a journalist, but I ask in my book and I ask people in Lebanon, as
      a newspaper reporter, why don't the victims of these weapons, not just
      cluster bombs, but the Lockheed Martin, Boeing, AGM-114C air-to-ground
      missile -- it hits an ambulance, it kills people, it did in 1996 --
      why don't the victims or survivors sue the arms companies? I actually
      took -- and I recall the story here -- I actually took parts of, in
      fact, literally the whole US missile in bits that hit an ambulance,
      was fired on an ambulance by an Israeli helicopter, Apache,
      American-made, in '96, killed three children, two women. And with the
      UN, I got all the bits of the missile, including bits from the
      corpses. And we found the computer plate, and it was made in Duluth,
      Georgia. We found the date on it.

      I went to Duluth. I managed to get the missile parts out of Beirut to
      Paris with the help of airport security. In Paris, we got Amnesty
      International to send it to Washington as a DHL package. I didn't want
      to turn up at JFK, you know, reporter found with explosive traces.
      Imagine Tom Friedman's comment on that. And I got these parts of the
      missile down to Duluth in Georgia to confront the Boeing executives
      there, including the developer of the missile. They thought I was
      coming to write a piece about this wonderful missile that could be
      fired five miles away and go through a baseball loop, you know. And
      there was a sort of explosion in the boardroom as I laid out the
      pieces of the missile along with the photographs of the dead and
      wounded civilians hit by their missile, which was made there, the
      building next door to where we were talking.

      AMY GOODMAN: And where did it kill people, that you had the example of?

      ROBERT FISK: Southern Lebanon. Southern Lebanon. It was on a road -- I
      was in front of the vehicle when it was hit. I was driving on the same
      road. That's why I knew exactly -- I saw the helicopter.

      And the amazing thing was that when I got back to Beirut having run
      this story on the front page of the paper -- it's called "Return to
      Sender" -- they didn't want the pieces of the missile; actually, they
      kept them, but they didn't put them in the Boeing museum -- I was rung
      up by a NATO arms expert in Paris. He was a Frenchman. And he said,
      "That missile was not sold to Israel, it was sold to the US Marine
      Corps." And I said, how -- "come to Paris." We met at the Lutetia
      Hotel -- great secrecy -- and he pulled out all the secret lists with
      NATO codes showing -- if you read the computer codes on the missile
      side, which I can do, you can tell who it was sold to. And he showed
      me the "O1," US forces, and then "M" for Marines.

      So I went back to Washington immediately, called up the Commandant of
      the Marine Corps, got taken by guys to a Marine base outside
      Washington, where men in civilian clothes, officers, sat around and
      went through it, said, "Well, look, we can tell you the story. These
      missiles were a batch of 360 sent with US Marines to Saudi Arabia in
      1990, and we used half of them against the Iraqi army in the
      liberation of Kuwait in '91. Those half that remained, we were
      instructed to drop off at the Haifa munitions pier in Israel as part
      of a quid pro quo weapons for the Israelis in return for their
      non-participation in the 1990 war against Iraq." So this missile
      started off, was sold to the Marines, taken to Saudi Arabia for use
      against the Iraqis, dumped on the Israelis and fired into an ambulance
      in southern Lebanon, and then taken by me back to its base in --

      Now, when I did that, I said, "Hang on, why don't these people sue
      Boeing? Is there no responsibility on behalf of the arms makers?" They
      say, "Oh, we've given it to the Marines. We're selling it to Israel."
      Don't they have a responsibility to follow through? We, in our jobs,
      have responsibilities. You know, if you misreport something, at some
      point you're going to go on the screen and say, "I got it wrong." And
      so am I, if I make mistakes. But these guys are completely -- they're
      completely protected.

      AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, we have thirty seconds. What would happen if
      the US attacked Iran?

      ROBERT FISK: Hell disaster again. You try to get out of one war by
      starting another. I think the Iranians would find some way of hitting
      back, and it would not be the same kind of war, you see. We're not
      talking about a land war. We're talking about bombarding it. And the
      Iranians, both as a people, as well as all the mullahs, they would
      want to hit back again. It would be a war. It wouldn't stop there. You
      can't say, "OK, we're going to stop bombarding. It will carry on."
      That's a problem.

      AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, I want to thank you very much for being with
      us. Robert Fisk is the author of The Great War for Civilisation: The
      Conquest of the Middle East, his earlier book, Pity the Nation: The
      Abduction of Lebanon, longtime Middle East correspondent for The
      Independent of London. Thanks for joining us.



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