Newspaper punished for criticizing Iraqi leader

The increasingly autocratic behavior of Maliki highlights the folly of "spreading freedom" through occupations

Published November 11, 2009 11:12AM (EST)

(updated below)

In April of this year, the British daily, The Guardian, published an article by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi citizen, documenting the increasingly autocratic practices of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  The article quoted an Iraqi intelligence official claiming that "Maliki is running a dictatorship."  As if to prove their point, the reaction of the Maliki government was to sue The Guardian under a law that does "not allow foreigners to publish articles critical of the prime minister or president," and yesterday, an Iraqi court ordered the newspaper to pay Maliki the equivalent of £52,000.  Iraq's leading journalism organization says the court order "is part of a wider crackdown against media outlets designed to discourage scrutiny of public officials" and that "the Iraqi media have been inundated by writs from officials in recent months and have lost official access and status to state-backed organisations."  Both The New York Times and AP in Iraq have received such writs.

Two months ago, The Economist published a far more damning account of the Maliki government, detailing numerous government policies of torture, media attacks and other forms of censorship:

Human-rights violations are becoming more common. In private many Iraqis, especially educated ones, are asking if their country may go back to being a police state. Old habits from Saddam Hussein’s era are becoming familiar again. Torture is routine in government detention centres. "Things are bad and getting worse, even by regional standards," says Samer Muscati, who works for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby.

Yesterday, The New York Times reported that former Blackwater officials claim the company plotted to bribe Iraqi government officials to withhold criticisms of the American contractor for its wanton slaughter of Iraqi civilians and other crimes (here is leading Blackwater expert Jeremy Scahill discussing with Rachel Maddow the potential criminal implications of the story -- as well as the U.S. Government's ongoing use of Blackwater for multiple functions).

All of this underscores the painful folly of those who continue to justify American wars with the claim that we're going to magnanimously spread freedom, democracy and human rights to the countries we invade, bomb and occupy.  That so plainly isn't our motive -- or anyone else's -- for fighting wars, notwithstanding whatever good intentions individual soldiers may have.  And even if it were our motive, trying to re-shape other countries and cultures with military invasions is a task that, while not impossible, is close to it (I discussed that topic at length in the Bill Moyers interview I did last week in the context of reports that we have Afghan "drug kingpin" Ahmed Karzai on our payroll).  

In Iraq, here we are almost seven years after the invasion -- hundreds of billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and more than 4,000 American lives later -- and the primary remaining "justification" is that we're bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq.  Yet the government we helped install and which we empower is becoming increasingly tyrannical, oppressive and brutal.  We at least ought to take that strongly into account as we hear government claims that we need to remain, and escalate, in Afghanistan for the good of the people there.

* * * * * 

This website, compiled for Veterans' Day, contains numerous videos of American soldiers returning home and being greeted by their dogs  (h/t John Cole).  Particularly for dog owners, but really for anyone, there is something quite affecting and even illuminating about these videos.


UPDATE:  In yesterday's Mercury News, Malalai Joya -- as Afghan woman elected to her country's Parliament -- says that she is now "in the United States to ask President Barack Obama to immediately end the occupation of [her] country," and specifically takes to task those claiming that ongoing American occupation is justified because it will help Afghan women:

Eight years ago, women's rights were used as one of the excuses to start this war.  But today, Afghanistan is still facing a women's rights catastrophe.  Life for most Afghan women resembles a type of hell that is never reflected in the Western mainstream media.

In 2001, the U.S. helped return to power the worst misogynist criminals, such as the Northern Alliance warlords and druglords. These men ought to be considered a photocopy of the Taliban. The only difference is that the Northern Alliance warlords wear suits and ties and cover their faces with the mask of democracy while they occupy government positions. But they are responsible for much of the disaster today in Afghanistan, thanks to the U.S. support they enjoy.

She details the many reasons why ongoing occupation, and especially escalation, will do nothing to improve the lives of Afghan women, a principal "justification" offered by many pro-war Americans -- especially pro-war Democrats -- for why the American occupation should continue.  The relationship between what she says and what is happening in Iraq is self-evident.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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