The press is obsessed with petty vendettas while British ministers continue to support a silent holocaust

8 January 1999

There was a great deal of publicity and empathy last week for the four tourists, two of them Britons, murdered in Yemen. There has been nothing for the 68 Iraqi civilians murdered by the American and British governments shortly before Christmas.

The parallels between the two attacks are striking. Both were premeditated lawless acts for political ends, and they are connected. It is likely the Britons died as a direct consequence of their own government's criminal actions in Iraq.

This, and the real danger of revenge attacks, was clearly not a consideration when the bellicose figure of Tony Blair rose in parliament to play Palmerston, and George Robertson pleaded the case for state murder, then disclaimed it in the letters columns of the Guardian. "We believe," he wrote, "that none of the munitions that missed [their targets] hit civilian targets." Note that the word he chooses is "believe", not "know" or "can verify".

Consider this Defence Secretary. Shortly after the election, Robertson proposed a "military experience" for new Labour MPs who, he said, should spend at least 21 days "getting to know" life with the troops. He described the head of Indonesia's murderous special forces, a kind of Waffen-SS responsible for genocide in East Timor, as "an enlightened officer, keen [on] human rights". He further distinguished himself by making clear his government was prepared to use "tactical" nuclear weapons against Iraq.

As for Blair, his platitudes misled parliament and us all. Far from "punishing" Saddam Hussein, the real Anglo-American objective is to secure an American oil protectorate to the Caspian Sea, along with isolating Iraq, so that its high-quality crude oil, 20 per cent of the world's reserves, is not allowed to flow into the international market and force down the price of Saudi oil. Shoring up Saudi Arabia is critical for American and British capital; most of the British arms industry is dependent on the al-Yamamah deal with Saudi sheikhs.

To this end, Blair and Robertson approved the equivalent of hundreds of Omagh bombs hurled at a country where an estimated million children have died as a result of sanctions. This is a silent holocaust which Ethical Man Robin Cook disingenuously denies while another 5,000 children die every month. When you next hear Blair and Straw and Blunkett lecturing us on morality, on the importance of the family and doing your homework, think of their government's crime in the Gulf.

A lowering of consciousness, an organised forgetting, distinguishes the so-called information age. Puerile and petty vendettas among new Labour's semi-celebrities (a Guardian letter-writer's fine description) are considered news, not the true consequences of their power. The state crimes of the 20th century have been committed not only by uniformed caricatures, but by impeccable men in suits who, at great remove in distance and culture, have ordered the deaths, however indirectly, of countless innocents. In Cambodia, Pol Pot completed that which Kissinger's illegal bombing had begun. In Iraq, Clinton and Albright, Blair and Robertson, and Ethical Man Cook, join this hall of muted fame.

Elites are important to their "Atlanticist" project. They provide a gloss of respectability, and they flatter often unwitting participants whose place in the network gives the whole thing credibility. One expanding elite is the casual freemasonry known as the British American Project for the Successor Generation, which I have written about in previous columns. Launched by President Reagan at a ceremony in the Oval Office attended by Rupert Murdoch and others of similar worldview, the project was set up by the oil-rich Pew Trust, backer of extreme right-wing causes.

The aim was to spread the imperial word to "successor generations" who might not have known the paranoia of the red "threat". "Alumni" include members of the defunct SDP, not least Simon Lewis, now head of public relations at Buckingham Palace. Numerous Blair ministers and associates are also "alumni". They include George Robertson, Peter Mandelson and one of Mandelson's patrons, the American lingerie tycoon Linda Wachner, who was recently in the news as the provider of free flights to the former trade and industry secretary. She is listed as chair of foreign economic policy, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington. This is a quasi- government think-tank, an arsenal of the cold war.

The "fellows" of the British American Project met in New Orleans in November for "consciousness-raising" and "animated discussion". This excluded discussion about the imminent killing of Iraqis, Clinton's plans for the biggest war budget since the Reagan years and Nato's nuclear expansion: all products of Atlanticism.

The project's December Newsletter is concerned with extending the "register" of the "successors". There are naive contributions from flattered people, such as Robert Terry of the Royal Society, who lauds the "politically diverse group of intelligent people". Had he thought about it, he might have questioned the "political diversity" of the project's leading sponsors: the arms manufacturer British Aerospace, the oil company BP and the notorious mining multinational, Rio Tinto.

"The UK Executive Committee," writes its chair, Philippa Cordingley, "decided to refuse to enter the debate being sought by John Pilger through his speculative and critical articles inferring that the project has its roots in a secret right-wing conspiracy. This was on the grounds that debate was just what Pilger wanted and that once started it would never stop."

Exactly.