(This is the much-abridged
version of a conference at the XII Seminar of
Political Solidarity at the University of
Zaragoza, Spain, March 27, 2012.)
early 21st century is addicted to war porn, a
prime spectator sport consumed by global couch and
digital potatoes. War porn took the limelight on
the evening of September 11, 2001, when the George
W Bush administration launched the "war on terror"
- which was interpreted by many of its
practitioners as a subtle legitimization of United
States state terror against, predominantly,
This was also a war OF terror -
as in a manifestation of state terror pitting
urban high-tech might against basically rural,
low-tech cunning. The US did not exercise this
practiced it in Xinjiang, its
far west, and Russia practiced it in Chechnya.
Like porn, war porn cannot exist without
being based on a lie - a crude representation. But
unlike porn, war porn is the real thing; unlike
crude, cheap snuff movies, people in war porn
actually die - in droves.
The lie to
finish all lies at the center of this
representation was definitely established with the
leak of the 2005 Downing Street memo, in which the
head of the British MI6 confirmed that the Bush
administration wanted to take out Iraq's Saddam
Hussein by linking Islamic terrorism with
(non-existent) weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
So, as the memo put it, "The intelligence and
facts were being fixed around the policy."
In the end, George "you're either with us
or against us" Bush did star in his own,
larger-than-life snuff movie - that happened to
double as the invasion and destruction of the
eastern flank of the Arab nation.
new Guernica Iraq may indeed be seen as
the Star Wars of war porn - an apotheosis of
sequels. Take the (second) Fallujah offensive in
late 2004. At the time I described it as the new
Guernica. I also took the liberty of paraphrasing
Jean-Paul Sartre, writing about the Algerian War;
after Fallujah no two Americans shall meet without
a corpse lying between them. To quote Coppola's
Apocalypse Now, there were bodies, bodies
The Francisco Franco in
Fallujah was Iyad Allawi, the US-installed interim
premier. It was Allawi who "asked" the Pentagon to
bomb Fallujah. In Guernica - as in Fallujah -
there was no distinction between civilians and
guerrillas: it was the rule of "Viva la
United States Marine Corps
commanders said on the record that Fallujah was
the house of Satan. Franco denied the massacre in
Guernica and blamed the local population - just as
Allawi and the Pentagon denied any civilian deaths
and insisted "insurgents" were guilty.
Fallujah was reduced to rubble, at least
200,000 residents became refugees, and thousands
of civilians were killed, in order to "save it"
(echoes of Vietnam). No one in Western corporate
media had the guts to say that in fact Fallujah
was the American Halabja.
before Fallujah, in Halabja, Washington was a very
enthusiastic supplier of chemical weapons to
Saddam, who used them to gas thousands of Kurds.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the time
said it was not Saddam; it was Khomeinist Iran.
Yet Saddam did it, and did it deliberately, just
like the US in Fallujah.
identified swollen and yellowish corpses without
any injuries, as well as "melted bodies" - victims
of napalm, the cocktail of polystyrene and jet
fuel. Residents who managed to escape told of
bombing by "poisonous gases" and "weird bombs that
smoke like a mushroom cloud ... and then small
pieces fall from the air with long tails of smoke
behind them. The pieces of these strange bombs
explode into large fires that burn the skin even
when you throw water over them."
exactly what happens to people bombed with napalm
or white phosphorus. The United Nations banned the
bombing of civilians with napalm in 1980. The US
is the only country in the world still using
Fallujah also provided a
mini-snuff movie hit; the summary execution of a
wounded, defenseless Iraqi man inside a mosque by
a US Marine. The execution, caught on tape, and
watched by millions on YouTube, graphically
spelled out the "special" rules of engagement. US
Marine commanders at the time were telling their
soldiers to "shoot everything that moves and
everything that doesn't move"; to fire "two
bullets in every body"; in case of seeing any
military-aged men in the streets of Fallujah, to
"drop 'em"; and to spray every home with
machine-gun and tank fire before entering them.
The rules of engagement in Iraq were
codified in a 182-page field manual distributed to
each and every soldier and issued in October 2004
by the Pentagon. This counter-insurgency manual
stressed five rules; "protect the population;
establish local political institutions; reinforce
local governments; eliminate insurgent
capabilities; and exploit information from local
Now back to reality. Fallujah's
population was not protected: it was bombed out of
the city and turned into a mass of thousands of
refugees. Political institutions were already in
place: the Fallujah Shura was running the city. No
local government can possibly run a pile of rubble
to be recovered by seething citizens, not to
mention be "reinforced". "Insurgent capabilities"
were not eliminated; the resistance dispersed
around the 22 other cities out of control by the
US occupation, and spread up north all the way to
Mosul; and the Americans remained without
intelligence "from local sources" because they
antagonized every possible heart and mind.
Meanwhile, in the US, most of the
population was already immune to war porn. When
the Abu Ghraib scandal broke out in the spring of
2004, I was driving through Texas, exploring
Bushland. Virtually everybody I spoke to either
attributed the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners to
"a few bad apples", or defended it on patriotic
grounds ("we must teach a lesson to "terrorists").
I love a man in uniform In
thesis, there is an approved mechanism in the 21st
century to defend civilians from war porn. It's
the R2P - "responsibility to protect" doctrine.
This was an idea floated already in 2001 - a few
weeks after the war on terror was unleashed, in
fact - by the Canadian government and a few
foundations. The idea was that the concert of
nations had a "moral duty" to deploy a
humanitarian intervention in cases such as
Halabja, not to mention the Khmer Rouge in
Cambodia in the mid-1970s or the genocide in
Rwanda in the mid-1990s.
In 2004, a panel
at the UN codified the idea - crucially with the
Security Council being able to authorize a
"military intervention" only "as a last resort".
Then, in 2005, the UN General Assembly endorsed a
resolution supporting R2P, and in 2006 the UN
Security Council passed resolution 1674 about "the
protection of civilians in armed conflict"; they
should be protected against "genocide, war crimes,
ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity".
Now fast-forward to the end of 2008, early
2009, when Israel - using American fighter jets to
raise hell - unleashed a large-scale attack on the
civilian population of the Gaza strip.
Look at the official US reaction; "Israel
has obviously decided to protect herself and her
people," said then-president Bush. The US Congress
voted by a staggering 390-to-5 to recognize
"Israel's right to defend itself against attacks
from Gaza". The incoming Barack Obama
administration was thunderously silent. Only
future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said,
"We support Israel's right to self-defense."
At least 1,300 civilians - including
scores of women and children - were killed by
state terror in Gaza. Nobody invoked R2P. Nobody
pointed to Israel's graphic failure in its
"responsibility to protect" Palestinians. Nobody
called for a "humanitarian intervention" targeting
The mere notion that a superpower
- and other lesser powers - make their foreign
policy decisions based on humanitarian grounds,
such as protecting people under siege, is an
absolute joke. So already at the time we learned
how R2P was to be instrumentalized. It did not
apply to the US in Iraq or Afghanistan. It did not
apply to Israel in Palestine. It would eventually
apply only to frame "rogue" rulers that are not
"our bastards" - as in Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in
2011. "Humanitarian" intervention, yes; but only
to get rid of "the bad guys."
beauty of R2P was that it could be turned upside
down anytime. Bush pleaded for the "liberation" of
suffering Afghans - and especially
burqa-clad Afghan women - from the "evil"
Taliban, in fact configuring Afghanistan as a
And when the
bogus links between al-Qaeda and the non-existent
WMDs were debunked, Washington began to justify
the invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq
via ... R2P; "responsibility to protect" Iraqis
from Saddam, and then to protect Iraqis from
The killer awoke before
dawn The most recent installment in serial
episodes of war porn is the Kandahar massacre,
when, according to the official Pentagon version
(or cover up) an American army sergeant, a sniper
and Iraqi war veteran - a highly trained assassin
- shot 17 Afghan civilians, including nine women
and four children, in two villages two miles
apart, and burned some of their bodies.
Like with Abu Ghraib, there was the usual
torrent of denials from the Pentagon - as in "this
is not us" or "we don't do things these way"; not
to mention a tsunami of stories in US corporate
media humanizing the hero-turned-mass killer, as
in "he's such a good guy, a family man". In
contrast, not a single word about The Other - the
Afghan victims. They are faceless; and nobody
knows their names.
A - serious - Afghan
enquiry established that some 20 soldiers may have
been part of the massacre - as in My Lai in
Vietnam; and that included the rape of two of the
women. It does make sense. War porn is a lethal,
group subculture - complete with targeted
assassinations, revenge killings, desecration of
bodies, harvesting of trophies (severed fingers or
ears), burning of Korans and pissing on dead
bodies. It's essentially a collective sport.
US "kill teams" have deliberately executed
random, innocent Afghan civilians, mostly
teenagers, for sport, planted weapons on their
bodies, and then posed with their corpses as
trophies. Not by accident they had been operating
out of a base in the same area of the Kandahar
And we should not forget former
top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley
McChrystal, who in April 10, 2010, admitted,
bluntly, "We've shot an amazing number of people"
who were not a threat to the US or Western
The Pentagon spins and sells
in Afghanistan what it sold in Iraq (and even way
back in Vietnam for that matter); the idea that
this is a "population-centric counter-insurgency"
- or COIN, to "win hearts and minds", and part of
a great nation building project.
This is a
monumental lie. The Obama surge in Afghanistan -
based on COIN - was a total failure. What replaced
it was hardcore, covert, dark war, led by "kill
teams" of Special Forces. That implies an
inflation of air strikes and night raids. No to
mention drone strikes, both in Afghanistan and in
Pakistan's tribal areas, whose favorite targets
seem to be Pashtun wedding parties.
Incidentally, the CIA claims that since
May 2010, ultra-smart drones have killed more than
600 "carefully selected" human targets - and,
miraculously, not a single civilian.
Expect to see this war porn extravaganza
celebrated in an orgy of upcoming, joint
Pentagon-Hollywood blockbusters. In real life,
this is spun by people such as John Nagl, who was
on General David Petraeus' staff in Iraq and now
runs the pro-Pentagon think-tank Center for New
The new stellar macho,
macho men may be the commandos under the Joint
Special Operations Command (JSOC). But this a
Pentagon production, which has created, according
to Nagl, an "industrial strength counter-terrorism
Reality, though, is much
more prosaic. COIN techniques, applied by
McChrystal, relied on only three components;
24-hour surveillance by drones; monitoring of
mobile phones; and pinpointing the physical
location of the phones from their signals.
This implies that anyone in an area under
a drone watch using a cell phone was branded as a
"terrorist", or at least "terrorist sympathizer".
And then the focus of the night raids in
Afghanistan shifted from "high value targets" -
high-level and mid-level al-Qaeda and Taliban - to
anyone who was branded as helping the Taliban.
In May 2009, before McChrystal arrived, US
Special Forces were carrying 20 raids a month. By
November, they were 90 a month. By the spring of
2010, they were 250 a month. When McChrystal was
fired - because of a story in Rolling Stone (he
was competing with Lady Gaga for the cover; Lady
Gaga won) - and Obama replaced him with Petraeus
in the summer of 2010, there were 600 a month. By
April 2011, they were more than 1,000 a month.
So this is how it works. Don't even think
of using a cell phone in Kandahar and other Afghan
provinces. Otherwise, the "eyes in the sky" are
going to get you. At the very least you will be
sent to jail, along with thousands of other
civilians branded as "terrorist sympathizers"; and
intelligence analysts will use your data to
compile their "kill/capture list" and catch even
more civilians in their net.
As for the
civilian "collateral damage" of the night raids,
they were always presented by the Pentagon as
"terrorists". Example; in a raid in Gardez on
February 12, 2010, two men were killed; a local
government prosecutor and an Afghan intelligence
official, as well as three women (two of them
pregnant). The killers told the US-North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) command in Kabul that
the two men were "terrorists" and the women had
been found tied up and gagged. Then the actual
target of the raid turned himself in for
questioning a few days later, and was released
without any charges.
That's just the
beginning. Targeted assassination - as practiced
in Afghanistan - will be the Pentagon's tactic of
choice in all future US wars.
condom, darling Libya was a major war porn
atrocity exhibition - complete with a nifty Roman
touch of the defeated "barbarian" chief sodomized
in the streets and then executed, straight on
This, by the way, is exactly what
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a lightning
visit to Tripoli, had announced less than 48 hours
before the fact. Gaddafi should be "captured or
killed". When she watched it in the screen of her
BlackBerry she could only react with the semantic
From the minute a UN
resolution imposed a no-fly zone over Libya under
the cover of R2P, it became a green card to regime
change. Plan A was always to capture and kill
Gaddafi - as in an Afghan-style targeted
assassination. That was the Obama administration
official policy. There was no plan B.
Obama said the death of Gaddafi meant,
"the strength of American leadership across the
world". That was as "We got him" (echoes of Saddam
captured by the Bush administration) as one could
With an extra bonus. Even
though Washington paid no less than 80% of the
operating costs of those dimwits at NATO (roughly
$2 billion), it was still pocket money. Anyway, it
was still awkward to say, "We did it", because the
White House always said this was not a war; it was
a "kinetic" something. And they were not in
Only the hopelessly naïve may have
swallowed the propaganda of NATO's "humanitarian"
40,000-plus bombing which devastated Libya's
infrastructure back to the Stone Age as a Shock
and Awe in slow motion. This never had anything to
do with R2P.
This was R2P as safe sex -
and the "international community" was the condom.
The "international community", as everyone knows,
is composed of Washington, a few washed-up NATO
members, and the democratic Persian Gulf
powerhouses of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates
(UAE), plus the House of Saud in the shade. The
EU, which up to extra time was caressing the helm
of Gaddafi's gowns, took no time to fall over
themselves in editorials about the 42-year reign
of a "buffoon".
As for the concept of
international law, it was left lying in a drain as
filthy as the one Gaddafi was holed up in. Saddam
at least got a fake trial in a kangaroo court
before meeting the executioner (he ended up on
YouTube as well). Osama bin Laden was simply
snuffed out, assassination-style, after a
territorial invasion of Pakistan (no YouTube - so
many don't believe it). Gaddafi went one up,
snuffed out with a mix of air war and
assassination. They are The Three Graceful Scalps
of War Porn.
Syria is yet another declination of war
porn narrative. If you can't R2P it, fake it.
And to think that all this was codified
such a long time ago. Already in 1997, the US Army
War College Quarterly was defining what they
called "the future of warfare". They framed it as
"the conflict between information masters and
They were sure "we
are already masters of information warfare ...
Hollywood is 'preparing the battlefield' ...
Information destroys traditional jobs and
traditional cultures; it seduces, betrays, yet
remains invulnerable … Our sophistication in
handling it will enable us to outlast and
outperform all hierarchical cultures ... Societies
that fear or otherwise cannot manage the flow of
information simply will not be competitive. They
might master the technological wherewithal to
watch the videos, but we will be writing the
scripts, producing them, and collecting the
royalties. Our creativity is devastating."
Post-everything information warfare has
nothing to do with geopolitics. Just like the
proverbial Hollywood product, it is to be
"spawned" out of raw emotions; "hatred, jealousy,
and greed - emotions, rather than strategy".
In Syria this is exactly how Western
corporate media has scripted the whole movie; the
War College "information warfare" tactics in
practice. The Syrian government never had much of
a chance against those "writing the scripts,
producing them, and collecting the royalties".
For example, the armed opposition, the
so-called Free Syrian Army (a nasty cocktail of
defectors, opportunists, jihadis and foreign
mercenaries) brought Western journalists to Homs
and then insisted to extract them, in extremely
dangerous condition, and with people being killed,
via Lebanon, rather than through the Red Crescent.
They were nothing else than writing the script for
a foreign-imposed "humanitarian corridor" to be
opened to Homs. This was pure theater - or war
porn packaged as a Hollywood drama.
problem is Western public opinion is now hostage
to this brand of information warfare. Forget about
even the possibility of peaceful negotiations
among adult parties. What's left is a binary good
guys versus bad guys plot, where the Big Bad Guy
must be destroyed at all costs (and on top of it
his wife is a snob bitch who loves shopping!)
Only the terminally naïve may believe that
jihadis - including Libya's NATO rebels - financed
by the Gulf Counter-revolution Club, also know as
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are a bunch of
democratic reformists burning with good
intentions. Even Human Rights Watch was finally
forced to acknowledge that these armed "activists"
were responsible for "kidnapping, detention, and
torture", after receiving reports of "executions
by armed opposition groups of security force
members and civilians".
What this (soft
and hard) war porn narrative veils, in the end, is
the real Syrian tragedy; the impossibility for the
much-lauded "Syrian people" to get rid of all
these crooks - the Assad system, the Muslim
Brotherhood-controlled Syrian National Council,
and the mercenary-infested Free Syrian Army.
Listen to the sound of chaos
This - very partial - catalogue of sorrows
inevitably brings us to the current supreme war
porn blockbuster - the Iran psychodrama.
2012 is the new 2002; Iran is the new
Iraq; and whatever the highway, to evoke the
neo-con motto, real men go to Tehran via Damascus,
or real men go to Tehran non-stop.
only underwater in the Arctic we would be able to
escape the cacophonous cortege of American
right-wingers - and their respective European
poodles - salivating for blood and deploying the
usual festival of fallacies like "Iran wants to
wipe Israel off the map", "diplomacy has run its
course", "the sanctions are too late", or "Iran is
within a year, six months, a week, a day, or a
minute of assembling a bomb". Of course these dogs
of war would never bother to follow what the
International Atomic Energy Agency is actually
doing, not to mention the National Intelligence
Estimates released by the 17 US intelligence
Because they, to a great extent,
are "writing the scripts, producing them, and
collecting the royalties" in terms of corporate
media, they can get away with an astonishingly
toxic fusion of arrogance and ignorance - about
the Middle East, about Persian culture, about
Asian integration, about the nuclear issue, about
the oil industry, about the global economy, about
"the Rest" as compared to "the West".
like with Iraq in 2002, Iran is always
dehumanized. The relentless, totally hysterical,
fear-inducing "narrative" of "should we bomb now
or should we bomb later" is always about oh so
very smart bunker buster bombs and precision
missiles that will accomplish an ultra clean
large-scale devastation job without producing a
single "collateral damage". Just like safe sex.
And even when the voice of the
establishment itself - the New York Times - admits
that neither US nor Israeli intelligence believe
Iran has decided to build a bomb (a 5-year-old
could reach the same conclusion), the hysteria
it gets ready - "all options are on the table",
Obama himself keeps repeating - for yet another
war in what it used to call "arc of instability",
the Pentagon also found time to repackage war
porn. It took only a 60-second video now on
YouTube, titled Toward the Sound of Chaos,
released only a few days after the Kandahar
massacre. Just look at its key target audience:
the very large market of poor, unemployed and
politically very naïve young Americans.
Let's listen to the mini-movie voice over:
"Where chaos looms, the Few emerge. Marines move
toward the sounds of tyranny, injustice and
despair - with the courage and resolve to silence
them. By ending conflict, instilling order and
helping those who can't help themselves, Marines
face down the threats of our time."
in this Orwellian universe, we should ask the dead
Afghans urinated upon by US Marines, or the
thousands of dead in Fallujah, to write a movie
review. Well, dead men don't write. Maybe we could
think about the day NATO enforces a no-fly one
over Saudi Arabia to protect the Shi'ites in the
eastern province, while Pentagon drones launch a
carpet of Hellfire missiles over those thousands
of arrogant, medieval, corrupt House of Saud
princes. No, it's not going to happen.
Over a decade after the beginning of the
war on terror, this is what the world is coming
to; a lazy, virtually worldwide audience, jaded,
dazed and distracted from distraction by
distraction, helplessly hooked on the shabby
atrocity exhibition of war porn.