I Knew Saddam

This is an abbreviated portrait of Saddam Hussein, based mainly on the reminiscences of US, British and Russian journalists who met him during the first Gulf War (1990-91).

The documentary notes his difficult childhood – his birth out of wedlock, unrelenting bullying by other children and his physically abusive stepfather. It also explores his love of the film The Godfather Part 1, for its portrayal of power based on ruthless brutality.

The filmmakers credit Saddam for the rapid modernization of Iraq and delivery, for the first time, of health services, education, water and electric power to even the most remote regions of Iraq. The price Iraqi people paid for these creature comforts was to live in a constant climate of fear. Children were pressured to inform on their parents. Even ruling Ba’ath party members were summarily executed if they posed any threat to Saddam’s authority.

Soon after assuming power in 1979, Saddam launched a devastating eight-year war against Iran, with the encouragement and financial/military support of the US. Iraq lost this war. A number of analysts blame the loss on Saddam’s insistence on running every aspect of the military campaign, despite his total lack of military experience.

The film goes on to talk about Saddam’s defeat by UN forces following his invasion of Kuwait. And the extreme suffering of the Iraqi people under a 12-year UN sanctions regime – while Saddam continued to live in lavish palaces.

While rarely mentioned in the Western media, Saddam had handed over power to his youngest son by the time the US invaded Iraq in 2003.

Tony Benn, the British journalist (and former Labour MP) describes the 2006 Iraqi trial in which Saddam was sentenced to death as a “fraud.”  According to Benn, he should have been tried at the International Criminal Court, where he would have been allowed to call witnesses in his defense (eg former president George H W Bush).

The film makes no mention of the CIA-sponsored coup that brought the Ba’ath Party to power in Iraq in 1963: see CIA Saddam

 

Former Guantanamo Detainee Exposes MI5 Role in Rendition

The Confession: The Story of Moazzam Begg

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

In this horrifying documentary, Moazzam Begg, who spent a year at Bagram prison and two ears at Guantanamo relates the history of his kidnapping and rendition from Islamabad (Pakistan), his rape and torture in both prisons, his release without charge in 2005 and his ongoing demonization by Islamophobic police, MI5 agents and British media.

Begg, the son of Pakistani immigrants, was born and grew up in the UK (Birmingham). After several beatings by skinheads, he paid a visit to Bosnia, where foreign Islamic fighters were supporting local Muslims during the NATO war against Yugoslavia. A short time later, he quit his job to open an Islamic bookshop in Birmingham. It was at this point he began to have regular contacts with an MI5 agent named Andrew.

In mid-2001, he was arrested under the Terrorism act, and British police raided his home and bookshop. The charges were dropped, and following his release, he moved his wife and three children to Afghanistan, which at that point was ruled by the Taliban.

Following the US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, he and his family fled to Islamabad. On Jan 21, 2002, a group of English-speaking men came to his home, kidnapped him and flew him to Kandahar prison in Afghanistan. There, after being threatened with rendition to Syria or Egypt for further torture and/or summary execution, he signed a confession admitting to membership in Al Qaeda. He reasoned that signing it would keep him alive long enough to stand trial.

Following the US invasion of Iraq, he was transferred to Bagram prison and from there to Guantanamo.

After his January 2005 release, he was briefly in custody in the UK and released without trial. It took three years to get his passport back. He then traveled to Egypt, Tunis, Libya and Turkey seeking further evidence of the US/UK rendition program. Under this process,  Muslim intellectuals were routinely kidnapped and “rendered” to totalitarian regimes (mainly Libya, Syria and Egypt), where they were tortured and forced to confess to Al Qaeda-related crimes.

In 2014, British police arrested him for the third time and he spent seven months in Belmarsh prison on a charge of training Syrian rebels and supplying them with an electrical generator. The case collapsed for lack of evidence. He believes this arrest stemmed from pure MI5 maliciousness for his efforts to expose their role in rendition and torture.

The video can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed free at Confession: Story of Moazzim Begg

 

 

US Occupation of Iraq: the Environmental Legacy

Iraq’s Dying Rivers

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about the environmental degradation of the Middle East’s most famous rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. The intersection of the two rivers, referred to as the Fertile Crescent, is celebrated as the birthplace of the agricultural revolution and the first human settlements.

The two rivers join in southern Iraq to form the Shatt-al-Arab, which empties into the Arabian Sea. The marshes along the Shatt were previously home to 200,000 “Marsh Arabs,” who worked as fishermen until Saddam Hussein drained the marshes in the 1950s. He reportedly did so to punish them for criticizing his regime.

The marshes were re-flooded in 2003, following the fall of Saddam. According to the UN, the wetlands habitat has only partially recovered (37%). This relates in part to dams on the upper Euphrates in Turkey and Syria. The latter have cut water levels in the Iraq segment of the Euphrates (making it more saline) by 50%. The river is also contaminated by industrial waste, agricultural runoff, human sewage, old rusting fishing vessels and the environmental damage resulting from nearly 30 years of US bombing campaigns (starting with the first US invasion in 1992).

Only 5,000 fisherman remain and all struggle to sustain their livelihood. In addition to declining fish stocks, they also face repeated harassment by the Iranian and Kuwaiti coast guard. The harassment stems from unresolved disputes between Iraq, Iran and Kuwait over their sea borders.

Fish stocks are also significantly reduced in the Tigris, which flows through Iraq’s capital city. While Baghdad fishermen are repeatedly hassled by Iraqi security forces, the Tigris is less contaminated and even serves as a source of drinking water.

At present, Iraq must import 60% of their fish, an important Iraqi dietary staple.

 

Fighting Homelessness: Reality TV that Depicts Reality

Hard Earned – Parts 1 and 2

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

As it bears no relation whatsoever to modern life, so-called “reality” TV is clearly a misnomer. Most of what passes for reality TV are highly scripted popularity contests for physically attractive white contestants.

Al Jazeera’s six-episode series Hard Earned, depicting the bitter struggle millions of Americans face to stay off the streets, is my kind of reality TV. Although I myself found it riveting, I am high skeptical that any US media provider will ever carry it.

Hard Earned follows five working class families as they struggle to meet basic survival needs with minimum wage jobs.

The families include an African American Chicago couple who work full time jobs at Walgreens to support two preschool kids; an Hispanic Iraq veteran in Montgomery Maryland who works a graveyard clerical shift at the courthouse, his school counselor girlfriend and his school aged son from a prior marriage; a Silicon Valley Hispanic man who works two full time jobs to pay $300 a month to live in a garage with his pregnant girlfriend; a 66/65-year-old African American Milwaukee couple who face working indefinitely at minimum wage jobs to keeping from losing their home; and a 50-year-old white Evergreen Park (Illinois) waitress who works two jobs and survives on credit cards to keep from losing the house she bought while making $80,000 a year as a construction worker.

We are introduced to the five families in Episode 1 and 2 (“The American Dream” and “Rock Bottom”). You are immediately struck by how exceptionally bright, hard working, resourceful and above all (for the most part) physically healthy they all are. This, despite working non-stop and getting very little sleep. They are also (for the most part) extremely adept at budgeting and managing their money.

 

 

The Electronic Whorehouse

The Electronic Whorehouse

by Paul Sheehan

McMillan Australia (2003)

Although 15 years old, this book offers valuable historical insight into the major transformation of traditional media in the 21st century. Paul Sheehan is a columnist and former senior editor for for The Sydney Morning Herald. His book is pretty wide ranging. As a point of departure, he examines the simultaneous rise of Fox News and Alex Jones, just as total network news viewership dropped from 60 to 30%, with a comparable reduction in newspaper readership.

One of Sheehan’s most important points is that the rise of the Internet has ended exclusive control by politicians, bureaucrats, media executives and journalists over the flow of public information. A second relates to the role of Fox News in forging a divergence between the “cultural elite” (represented by the traditional TV networks and CNN) and “mainstreet.” In describing Fox News’ appeal to blue collar white workers and Christian evangelists (almost never reflected in network news coverage – despite representing 46% of the US population), Sheehan eerily foreshadows the Trump phenomenon and the battle currently being played out between Trump and heritage media.

Sheehan goes on to decry the growing blurring between news, opinion and entertainment, as well as the exponential growth of the public relations industry as the source of most western news.

His conservative political bias comes across loud and clear in his diatribe against so-called “economic” refugees*, who he claims cheat the asylum process, and antiglobalization protestors (like myself), who in his view are merely trade unions playing the system for higher wages.

Oh really? That’s news to me – and I’m sure to conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan, as well.


*With the chaos the US and allies have inflicted on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the distinction between “economic” and “political” refugees has become purely arbitrary. When the basic infrastructure of a society has been totally destroyed, the question of basic survival becomes even more acute than if a refugee has received actual death threats.

 

 

Hidden History: The 1973 Arab-Israeli War

The War in October

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

The War in October is a three-part documentary series about the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War – aka the Yom Kippur War. What struck me most about the series is how markedly it differs from what we read in the Western media (which was embedded with Israeli troops) and what Americans are taught in school.

Part I provides the background of the war – an agreement by Syrian ruler Hafez al-Assad’s (Bashar’s father) agreement with Egyptian ruler Anwar Sadat to simultaneously attack Israel to reclaim territory each had lost to Israel (the Syrian Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula) in the 1967 war.

Part 1 reveals that both Syria and Egypt came close to reconquering their lost territory within the first 24 hours of their attack. They both failed, mainly owing to Assad’s and Sadat’s refusals to follow their generals’ advice.

Part 2 covers the major reversals Syria and Egypt experienced following the full mobilization of Israeli reserves. Israeli troops seized territory within Egypt to within 100 km of Cairo. Their tanks also penetrated deeply into Syria, until they were beaten back by reinforcements from Iraq and Jordan.

Part 3 is the most interesting, as it covers the role Henry Kissinger played, not only in providing Israel with critical military hardware, but in encouraging them to disregard two ceasefires ordered by the UN Security Council.

After the Soviet Union threatened to enforce the second ceasefire militarily, Kissinger (and Israel) eventually capitulated.

However the most effective tool in the 1973 war was the oil embargo launched by all Arab oil producing nations. International pressure forced Israel to withdraw from Egyptian and Syrian territory and accep deployment of UN peacekeeping troops in buffer zones east of the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights.

In a side agreement, Sadat agreed to release 230 Israeli prisoners of war in return for Kissinger’s pledge to negotiate a treaty leading to Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai. Signed in 1979, the treaty resulted in full withdrawal of Israeli troops in 1982 – a year after Sadat’s assassination.

David Rockefeller: Billionaire Architect of Corporate Globalization, CIA Coups and US Resource Wars

The Unauthorized Biography of David Rockefeller

by James Corbett (2017)

Film Review

This is a documentary about the late David Rockefeller, billionaire architect of corporate globalization, international free trade treaties (eg TPPA) and most CIA coups and US resource wars of the late 20th century (eg the US war on Iraq). Activists have known for decades that the US is run by billionaire oligarchs – and not Congress and the President. However it’s only with the advent of the Internet and Information Age that we could start to identify who these oligarchs are and how they control our democratic institutions. As in other documentaries, James Corbett does an excellent job exposing these secret levers of power.

According to Corbett, David, the last grandson of oil tycoon J.D. Rockefeller to die (in 2017), principally exerted his influence through foreign leaders he befriended in his role as CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank and World War II military intelligence officer; through his membership in secret round table groups (eg the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group) that craft foreign policy for all so-called western democracies; the insertion of his high level errand boys (eg Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski) into every presidential administration from Lyndon Johnson on; and the the vigorous role played by Rockefeller-funded foundations, universities, think tanks and media outlets in shaping public opinion.

In 1973, Kissinger (under David’s interest) was instrumental in launching the 1973 CIA coup in Chile to protect Rockefeller mining interests. Via David’s leadership role in the Bilderberg Group, he played a principle role in instigating the 1973 oil embargo (which jacked up oil prices and Rockefeller oil profits, the formation of the Eurozone and the euro and the 2003 invasion Iraq.

The Trilateral Commission, which David and Brzezinski co-founded in 1973, has been largely credited for Carter’s selection as the 1976 Democratic candidate – and (thanks to fawning coverage in the corporate media) his ultimate election as president.

With his five billionaire brothers, David also played a key role in founding the United Nations in 1945 (on donated Rockefeller land). The latter was openly designated the “world capitol” in historical newsreels.