Dead Men Left

Monday, May 17, 2004

Dammit, I liked Piers Morgan. He made an initially brave decision to back the anti-war movement and he was an effective spokesman for it. The man was, of course, motivated by the desire to sell newspapers and doubtless his own ego, but it paid dividends: the existence of mass circulation tabloid, positioning itself to the left of Labour had to be a welcome thing, regardless of why or how it emerged. He lost his nerve slightly after the invasion, of course, hit by the instamatic patriotism of supporting "our boys", and the Mirror never became quite the "serious tabloid" Morgan claimed he wished to run. But it regularly provided space for dissident voices in an accessible and immediate form; Morgan was sincere about his opposition to the war, and equally sincere in his criticisms of New Labour.

Morgan himself, however, is not the major issue here. His sacking - it is to his credit that he utterly refused to resign - is on a par with the disappearance of Dyke from the BBC, right down to the sickening apology the Mirror's publishers offered. A mistake seems to have been made, though Morgan is correct to say that no such case has yet been proved. But printing dodgy photographs is nothing new: remember the truly horrid snap of a baby dressed as a suicide bomber? No serious efforts were made to check its provenance, despite the equally serious doubts about its veracity, highlighted at the time. In any case, a free press should be able, in the public interest, to report sources it holds in good faith. And, as the arrest of troops from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment demonstrates, the photographs did indeed provide an illustration of the abuses taking place in Iraq.

That abuses have occurred is not denied by the army. The appearance of the photogrpahs was greeted by grim-faced generals announcing full investigations, and further revelations by squaddies. At no point has it been denied that incidents like those illustrated by the photographs occurred. The army's main bone of contention, then, has been not to claim that they are being cruelly libelled; instead, it has been to use the highly questionable accuracy of these particular photographs to launch a general attack on those criticising the behaviour of "our boys":

'Colonel David Black, a former commanding officer of the regiment, said: "It is time that the ego of one editor is measured against the life of a soldier. It is up to the readership, the board of directors and the shareholders to put pressure on to get an apology."'

No, Colonel, what truly puts British soldiers' lives at risk is their continuing use in a collapsing colonial occupation following a war no-one wanted in country that wants them to leave.

It is a disgusting, and potentially alarming, state of affairs when a supposedly "neutral" army - the very last of all the major institutions anyone would want imposing itself in political matters - is "queitly satisfied" at the sacking of newspaper editor, aided and abetted by that paper's US shareholders. We had seen the same process at the BBC after Hutton's whitewash: there, however, a supposedly "independent" judiciary provided the coup de grace. The net result, in both cases, has been to stifle journalistic independence. (It is to be hoped that rumours of Alastair Campbell's impending return to the Mirror as editor remain as rumours.) Some of the presumed principal elements of a liberal Parliamentary democracy - a free press, an independent judiciary - have taken a battering as a result of this war. The freedoms and guarrantees they provided were always highly contingent, of course; but it was rare to see them so significantly curtailed.

No newspaper editors were sacked after telling us we were "45 MINUTES FROM DESTRUCTION". John Scarlett, chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the man behind the dossier, has been promoted. Tony Blair, who lied to Parliament about Saddam's non-existent WMDs, remains in power. All their hoaxes - willingly delivered - have produced the terrible consequence we see in Iraq: sixteen thousands dead Iraqis and country brutally occupied. The bias is perfectly clear.