When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master. That’s all.”
[‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’, Lewis Carroll, 1872]
Granted, this is an administration that doesn’t want us to believe what they said. They want us to believe what they SAY they said.
[Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe, May 2, 2004]
Humpty Dumpty Bush is falling. His desperate manoeuvres and outright lies to try to justify his grotesque war on Iraq have been exposed for what they are. I don’t know if Senator Kerry will be the saviour of America, but on that subject am reminded of the action of an American friend some years ago when the name of President Clinton came up. This old chum is in the US military and is for apple pie, flag, Guns ‘R’ Us, and a Rottweiler in every yard ; in politics he is slightly to the right of the late Adolf Hitler, and I asked him how he could salute commander-in-chief Clinton, given his obvious contempt for him. He looked at me, grimaced, put the thumb and forefinger of his left hand on either side of his nostrils and whipped up a salute with the right.
Clinton will be known better for his devious dissemblance rather than for what he achieved for his country. Infamously, he uttered the pathetic words “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” which damned him utterly. But there are plays on words and the meanings of words in more recent times that would make Bill Clinton wonder if ‘is’ means anything atall.
I’m not criticizing the Marine colonel at Falluja who went into deep modification mode with the English language when he said “We don’t want to rubblize the city [because] that will give the enemy more places to hide.” Hell, I can verb a noun as good as the next person. If he doesn’t want to rubblize cities, well, bully for him. It beats destroying them, anyday, even if his motive was a trifle lacking in the human touch. The marines don’t refrain from rubblizing cities, you understand, in order to spare women and children. The hell with women and children.
Here’s part of a report from Dahr Jamail, one of the very few US journalists who managed to get into Falluja during the siege : “One of the bodies they brought to the clinic was that of an old man who was shot by a sniper outside of his home, while his wife and children sat wailing inside. The family couldn’t reach his body, for fear of being sniped by the Americans. His stiff body was carried into the clinic with flies swarming above it.” Well, at least the sniper wasn’t rubblizing the place. Just destroying people. This is what one young Marine sniper boasted about one of his victims : “I’ll let him scream a bit to destroy the morale of his buddies, then I’ll use a second shot.” These are the words of an American citizen in uniform, loyally serving Humpty Bush, as recorded by another brave journalist, Rahul Mahajan, also in Falluja. By any definition, this sniper is a psychopathic criminal.
But the Marines didn’t actually retreat from Falluja. Oh dear me, no. Reuters reported that “Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt . . . insisted the Marines were not “withdrawing” . . . but were simply “repositioning”.” Of course. It doesn’t matter what the real meaning of the word ‘retreat’ is, because it is not a White House Definition. The dictionary gives it as “Go back; retire; relinquish a position”, but in new Humpty-Bush double-think, through-the-looking-glass, upside-down-speak the Marines didn’t “go back or retire or relinquish a position”. They “repositioned” by scuttling out of Falluja and handed the place over to an Iraqi General who had been in Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard before commanding 38th Infantry Division.
Suddenly, out of the blue, the US army or the Marines or Bremer or Donald Trump or Elvis or whoever is in charge in Iraq decided that General Jasim Mohammed Saleh was a really good guy who should come into Falluja, dressed in his old uniform as a Saddam Hussein Baathist military officer, and take over the city. Then, a couple of days later, someone (White House? Pentagon? Michael Jackson?) reversed that decision and put another general in charge and demoted Saleh to be his second-in-command. (Who is paying Saleh’s wages? The US? It would be interesting to know.) But of course they didn’t tell Saleh, who comes from Falluja and has a considerable following there, that he was being replaced by another fellow. These people don’t try to confuse us and the Iraqis only with words : they create chaos by taking decisive action then decisively changing it. Nothing is thought through. The entire conduct of the war in Iraq is improvised, impulsive and irrational.
Nobody seems to know where Bremer fits into all this, least of all, it seems, Bremer, who is surrounded by gun-toting mercenaries whenever he dares to come out from his palace behind all the concrete and wire. Does he report to Powell? Does he take orders from Rumsfeld? Who calls the shots (literally) in Iraq? (It’s certainly not the puppet ‘Governing Council’.) Mind you, Bremer is just the man for the job of Gauleiter. He is truly flexible, which is an essential characteristic for such an appointment. He is the man who on February 26, 2001 said about Bush “The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there’s a major incident and then suddenly say, ‘Oh, my God, shouldn’t we be organized to deal with this?’ ”
That was a remarkably accurate call. He was proved absolutely right. But on May 2, 2004, the critical and prophetic Bremer changed his mind. His words “The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism” were suddenly altered to “I am strongly supportive and grateful for the President’s leadership and strategy in combating terrorism and protecting American national security throughout his first term in office.” You’ve got to hand it to the man for sheer downright chutzpah. Or you might think that he is an unprincipled, toadying, fart-catching asshole who changes his words and opinions to suit the people at the top of the fetid, worm-riddled dungheap that is the Bush administration.
Here’s Gauleiter Bremer on 23 April: “If these bands [in Falluja] do not surrender their military weapons and instead continue to use them against Iraq and Iraqi and coalition forces, offensive operations will resume.” Now, sure, the Marines stood off and sniped old men and kids and let the air force pound the hell out of Falluja, so in the strictest sense of the words (it all depends on what ‘is’ is) perhaps they were not carrying out “offensive operations” as such. They just shot a whole bunch of civilians and a few Iraqi freedom fighters and bombed the city to hell. Not rubblizing it, of course ; merely destroying buildings with ‘precision’ bombing. And use of the word ‘precision’ is yet another example of the Humpty people’s twisted language.
A ‘precision’ bomb might hit exactly the place it is aimed at. But it was actually admitted by a spokesman that one of them did in fact miss its target. Just one, mind you ; just one teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsy, dinky-doodle 500 pound bomb missed its target. And what did it rubblize, one wonders? (Remember that a 10 pound device wrapped round the torso of a suicide bomber can kill thirty people.) Just a few dozen Iraqis, maybe? But occupation troops don’t think it is worthwhile or necessary to count dead human beings if they are Iraqi dead human beings, so we don’t know how many were killed. The BBC team that went to Falluja on May 4 reported : “Ali Hassan took us to his neighbour’s house. He told us it was hit by two rockets, bringing the roof down on the families of three brothers and killing, he says, 36 people. The bodies of five children are still said to be under the rubble. “Were they terrorists?” he asks. “What did they do wrong? Women and children [died]. Is this the democracy and freedom the Americans brought us?” ”
It isn’t only words that are used to confuse us. Figures feature fatuously, too ; as when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz “was asked about the toll [of US deaths in Iraq] at a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee” on April 30. That was the day on which Associated Press reported “As of Friday, April 30, 732 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq last year, according to the Department of Defense. Of those, 530 died as a result of hostile action and 202 died of non-hostile causes.”
You would expect the Deputy Defense Secretary appointed by Humpty Bush, whose troops are fighting a bloody and barbaric war that has caused the wholly unnecessary deaths of hundreds of members of the US armed forces, to know how many of them had been killed. To be sure, Wolfowitz has all the warmth and generous feelings of a frog on an iceberg, but command of facts and figures is the least the American people might expect from the second senior man in the Pentagon. Well . . . no. Not exactly. In fact, far from exactly, because Wolfowitz answered, just as the latest death reports were coming in to his office, that the number of dead Americans was “approximately 500 of which–I can get the exact numbers–approximately 350 are combat deaths.”
This appalling little squirt who has never heard a shot fired in anger ; this nauseating apology for a human being ; this perambulating piece of excrement, did not know, on the day he testified to Congress about US involvement in Iraq, how many Americans had died there. He underestimated by, as he might say, “approximately”, a third. When did he stop counting? Did he ever begin counting? It doesn’t seem to matter to him or to the other soulless cretins in the Humpty Bush administration exactly how many people have been killed fighting the war they ordered.
But Wolfowitz breezed through it. There was no criticism by anyone. Never mind. Nobody really cares, because “The question is, who is to be Master; that’s all.”
We can have a quiet laugh about the military’s latest mangling of the language in such instances as “emergency landing due to ground fire”, which means “the helicopter was shot down”, and so on, but when the lies become so blatant that it’s obvious the liars don’t give a damn about the truth, then we should really start worrying. Take the great survivor, George Tenet, who will say anything to protect himself, Bush, the administration and everything else except the Constitution and his oath to tell the truth. When he appeared in front of the 9/11 Commission he swore he had not spoken with Bush in August 2001. In the Bush administration this means [not verbatim, of course] “I did speak with Bush in August 2001 and in fact flew to Texas on August 17 to speak with him and spoke with him again in Washington on August 31.” Simple, really. And we wouldn’t know anything about it if someone hadn’t asked an awkward question. The words “I didn’t speak with the president” mean “I did speak with the president” if you listen to them correctly.–“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”
The instances of sheer downright lying are too many to mention. But I leave you with two particularly twisted and degenerate pieces of verbal gymnastics that would have made Stalin’s propaganda wonks green with envy.
On May 4 Rumsfeld was forced to read out a semi-apology for the vile atrocities carried out by his troops (well, Humpty’s troops) in Iraq, which he did with all the moral conviction and humanitarian feeling of a mafia hitman reading aloud the ten commandments. He was then asked if torture had taken place, so sent both brain cells into massive rewind search for the cranial compartment marked ‘Obstruct and Deceive 101’, forked his tongue, and mumbled : “I think that–I’m not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. Just a minute. I don’t know if the–it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there’s been a conviction for torture. And therefore I’m not going to address the “torture” word.” Then he claimed “Well, we informed the world on Jan 16 that these [abuse/torture] investigations were under way.”
The international definition of Torture is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” So, relax, folks; because Rummy the ratbag doesn’t believe that humiliating naked prisoners by forcing them to masturbate and pile on top of each other and otherwise undergo depraved treatment by an organised team of sadists isn’t torture. And his claim about having “informed the world” on January 16 that there were “investigations” is also intriguing.
January 16, 2004 was a Friday, and it is usual to release bad news on Fridays, preferably late in the afternoon, so that it won’t receive much attention. But the Pentagon site detailing announcements and transcripts and interviews and press releases in January (see <http://www.defenselink.mil> ), does not appear to carry anything about investigations into torture or even ‘abuse’. Now, I’m not saying that Rumsfeld lied to us (perish the thought); I’m just making the point that it is difficult to find the announcement to the entire globe that he told us had been made. Perhaps he “misspoke”, of course, but for Rumsfeld to state “we informed the world” about investigations concerning vile and degrading treatment of helpless people is somewhat at variance with the May 4 Reuters report that “[the cases of] two Iraqi prisoners [who] were murdered by Americans and 23 other deaths are being investigated in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States revealed on Tuesday as the Bush administration tried to contain growing outrage over the abuse of Iraqi detainees.”
The word–yes, we have to concentrate on words–that leaps out at us here is “revealed”. ‘Revealed’ in May 2004.
But we thought that Rumsfeld had “informed the world” about the investigations on January 16? Well, maybe he had. But even if he did (just how?), he was a bit lax in informing the world about the damning report by Major General Antonio Taguba (one of the few people who come out of this series of squalid dramas with any honour) that was sent to the Pentagon on March 3, two whole months ago. And when did Rumsfeld read that report? Well, he can’t say, exactly. Here is the transcript:
“Q : Mr. Secretary, have you yet read the Taguba report?
SEC. RUMSFELD: It’s–which–yeah. You’re–I think you’re talking about the executive summary. That’s–I’ve seen the executive summary, the…
Q. Have you read through it, sir?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I’ve been through it. Whether–have read every page–no. There’s a lot of references and documentation to laws and conventions and procedures and requirements. But I have certainly read the conclusions and the other aspects of it.”
The man Rumsfeld is a humbug and a ninny. And, while we are talking of grubby knaves, here is the king humbug and word-mangler to end all word-manglers, Humpty Bush himself. In the White House on April 30 he announced that “there are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq.” What baloney.
Torture chambers? OK, let’s call them abuse chambers. Rape rooms? That depends on whether you call rape the forcing of a neon light tube up a prisoner’s anus. And as for mass graves . . . have you seen the BBC’s photography of graves in Falluja after the US blitzed the city? “Many of the dead who have been buried lie in what was a football pitch. Where people used to go to play, they now go to mourn. There are simple headstones for those who died–civilians and combatants. There was one particular grave where people were praying and grieving. The headstone said here laid the bodies of two baby girls.”
Are these mass graves, Chief Charlatan? Or perhaps you “can make words mean so many different things” like the original Humpty Dumpty, and convince yourself that the graves are figments of our imagination. Just like your decency and sense of honour.
But let’s all remember that:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King’s horses, and all the King’s men, Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Here’s hoping . . . .
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com