We Have A Long And Dishonourable Tradition Of Smearing The Dead

Let us remember Ahmed Hanoun Hussein, Mazen Dana, Twefiq Ghazawi, Bahij

Mentni, Rachel Corrie and Dr David Kelly

Robert Fisk


24 August 2003

Across the marble floor of the Shrine of the Imam Hussein

in Kerbala scampers Suheil with his plastic bag of metal. He points first

to a red stain on the flagstones. "This was a red smoke grenade that the

Americans fired," he tells me. "And that was another grenade mark." The

Shia worshippers are kneeling amid these burn marks, eyes glistening at the

gold façade of the mosque which marks the very place, behind silver bars

kissed by the faithful, where - in an epic battle far more decisive in

human history than any conflict fought by the United States - Imam

al-Hussein was cut down in AD680. There is a clink as, one by one, Suheil

drops his souvenirs on to the marble.


US forces denied that any ordnance fell upon the shrine when they opened

fire close to the Huseiniya mosque last month. Of course they denied it.

Denial has become a disease in Iraq - as it has through most of the Middle

East. The Americans deny that they kill innocent civilians in Iraq - but

kill them all the same. The Israelis deny they kill innocent civilians in

the occupied territories - indeed, they even deny the occupation - but kill

them all the same. So folk like Suheil are valuable. They expose lies. The

evidence, in this case, are his little souvenirs. On one of the grenades in

his plastic bag are written the words "Cartridge 44mm Red Smoke Ground

Marker M713 PB-79G041-001". Another is designated as a "White Star Cluster

M 585", yet another carries the code "40mm M195 KX090 (figure erased)

010-086". They are strange things to read in a religious building whose

scholars normally concentrate on the minutiae of Koranic sura rather than

the globalised linguistics of the arms trade.


But one of the Kerbala shrine's guards, Ahmed Hanoun Hussein, was killed by

the Americans when they arrived to assist Iraqi police in a confrontation

with armed thieves near the shrine. Two more Shias were shot dead by the

Americans during a protest demonstration the next day.


Suheil insist that the US troops wanted to enter the mosque - an unlikely

scenario since they are under orders to stay away from its vicinity - but

four bullets did smash into an outer wall. "We are peaceful people - so why

do we need this?" Suheil asks me plaintively. "Remember how we suffered

under Saddam?" And here he points upwards to another sacrilegious assault

on the shrine, this time amid the gold of one of the two principal minarets

- a shrapnel gash from a shell fired by Saddam's legions during the great

Shia revolt of 1991, the rebellion we encouraged and then betrayed after

the last Gulf War.


So you'd think, wouldn't you, that the shootings at Kerbala were an

established fact. But no. The US still insists it never fired into the

shrine of the Imam Hussein and "has no information" on the dead. Just as it

had "no information" about the massacre of at least six Iraqi civilians by

its soldiers during a house raid in the Mansour district of Baghdad a month

ago. Just as it has no information on the number of Iraqi civilian

casualties during and after the illegal Anglo-American invasion, estimated

at up to 5,223 by one reputable organisation and up to 2,700 in and around

Baghdad alone according to the Los Angeles Times.


And I've no doubt there would have been "no information" about the man shot

dead by US troops outside Abu Ghraib prison last week had he not

inconveniently turned out to be a prize-winning Reuters cameraman. Thus

Mazen Dana's death became a "terrible tragedy" - this from the same

American authorities whose Secretary of State Colin Powell thought that the

tank fire which killed another Reuters cameraman and a Spanish journalist

in April was "appropriate". Of course, the Americans didn't hesitate to

peddle the old lie about how Dana's camera looked like a rocket-propelled

grenade - the same cock-and-bull story the Israelis produced back in 1985

when they killed a two-man CBS crew, Tewfiq Ghazawi and Bahij Metni, in

southern Lebanon.


But there's a far more hateful bit of denial and hypocrisy being played out

now in the US over two young and beautiful women. The first, Private

Jessica Lynch, is feted as an American heroine after being injured during

the American invasion of Iraq and then "rescued" from her Iraqi hospital

bed by US Special Forces. Now it just happens that Private Lynch - far from

firing at her Iraqi attackers until the last bullet, as the Pentagon would

have had us believe - was injured in a road accident between two military

trucks during an ambush and that Iraqi doctors had been giving her special

care when Lynch's "rescuers" burst into her unguarded hospital. But the

second young American is a real heroine, a girl called Rachel Corrie who

stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer that was about to demolish a

Palestinian home and who was killed - wearing a clearly marked jacket and

shouting through a loudspeaker - when the Israeli driver crushed her

beneath his bulldozer and then drove backwards over her body again. All

this was filmed. As a Jewish writer, Naomi Klein, bravely pointed out in

The Guardian, "Unlike Lynch, Corrie did not go to Gaza to engage in combat;

she went to try to thwart it." Yet not a single American government

official has praised Rachel Corrie's courage or condemned her killing by

the Israeli driver. President Bush has been gutlessly silent. For their

part, the Israeli government tried to smear the activist group to which

Rachel Corrie belonged by claiming that two Britons later involved in a

suicide bombing in Tel Aviv had attended a memorial service to her - as if

the organisers could have known of the wicked deed the two men had not yet



But there's nothing new in smearing the dead, is there? Back in Northern

Ireland in the early 1970s, I remember well how the British Army's press

office at Lisburn in Co Antrim would respond to the mysterious death of

British ex-soldiers or Englishmen who were inconveniently killed by British

soldiers. The dead were always described as - and here, reader, draw in

your breath - "Walter Mitty characters". I used to get sick of reading this

smear in Belfast Telegraph headlines. Anonymous army officers would pass it

along to the press. The guy was a Walter Mitty, a fantasist whose claims

could not be believed. This was said of at least three dead men in Northern



And I have a suspicion, of course, that this is where Tony Blair's adviser

Tom Kelly first heard of Walter Mitty and the ease with which authority

could libel the dead. Born and bred in Northern Ireland, he must have read

the same lies in the Belfast papers as I did, uttered by the same anonymous

army "press spokesmen" with as little knowledge of Thurber as Mr Kelly

himself when they spoke to journalists over the phone. So from that dark

war in Northern Ireland, I think, came the outrageous smear against Dr

David Kelly, uttered by his namesake to a correspondent on The Independent.

So let us remember a few names this morning: Ahmed Hanoun Hussein, Mazen

Dana, Tewfiq Ghazawi, Bahij Metni, Rachel Corrie and Dr David Kelly.


All they have in common is their mortality. And our ability to deny their

deaths or lie about why we killed them or smear them when they can no

longer speak for themselves. Walter Mitty indeed!


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