Bush, Iran & Selective Outrage
    By Robert Parry
    Consortuim News


    One of the least endearing features of Washington's political/media
hierarchy is its propensity for selective outrage, like what is now coming
from George W. Bush about the "inexcusable behavior" of the Iranian
government in holding 15 British sailors whom Bush has labeled "hostages."

    This is the same President Bush who often mocks the very idea that
international law should apply to him; he's fond of the punch line:
"International law? I better call my lawyer." But Bush becomes a pious
defender of international law when it suits his geopolitical interests.

    The major U.S. news media predictably follows along, getting into an
arms-crossed harrumph over foreigners trampling on the inviolate principles
of international law, the same rules that should never constrain U.S.

    So, when British sailors were captured on March 23 after they may or may
not have crossed over an ill-defined demarcation between Iraqi and Iranian
waters in the Persian Gulf, the assumption in the U.S. media was that Iran
must be wrong. After all, Bush has listed Iran as a charter member of the
"axis of evil"; its leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a notorious hothead; and
everyone knows the Brits always play by the rules.

    Of course, left outside this narrow frame of reference was the gross
violation of international law - the bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003 - that
put the Brits there in the first place.

    Back then, international law was deemed little more than a nuisance
getting in the way of what President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair
wanted to do, i.e. conquer Iraq, install a compliant government, "privatize"
its resources, and threaten other countries in the region to get in line.

    Bush regarded the United Nations Charter and its ban on aggressive war
as some goofy experiment in multilateralism. Blair actually knew better.
Though he recognized that the Iraq invasion would violate this fundamental
tenet of international law, Blair went along anyway.

     From a longer-range historical context, there were other facts that
would need forgetting if one wanted to get worked up into a moral frenzy.
These include British colonial domination of both Iraq and Iran, and the
CIA's role in overthrowing Iran's elected government in 1953 and
reinstalling the brutal Shah of Iran on the Peacock Throne.

    The combined interventions by the United Kingdom and the United States
may have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands - possibly millions - of
Iraqis and Iranians over the past century, but somehow Blair and Bush have
positioned themselves as the innocent victims - at least as far as the
Western press corps is concerned.

    Iranian Detentions

    So, in December and January, when Bush ordered raids against Iranian
government offices inside Iraq and had five Iranian military officials
detained indefinitely, there was barely a peep in the Western news media
about violations of international law. Though the Iranians weren't formally
charged, their plight elicited little sympathy.

    There were expectations that the Iranians might be released on March 21,
the start of the Iranian new year. After that date passed, some observers
believe Iran may have opted for a tit-for-tat response in seizing the 15
British sailors.

    If that is the case, the Iranians apparently don't understand the rules
of the game: that President Bush has the unilateral right to do whatever he
wants in the world and any reaction is unjustified, if not an invitation to
an American military retaliation.

    Escalating the war of words with Iran during a press conference at Camp
David on March 31, Bush dismissed out of hand any possible "quid pro quos,"
such as a swap of the two sets of detainees.

    "The Iranians must give back the hostages," Bush declared. "It's
inexcusable behavior."

    Regarding the captured British sailors, Blair and other U.K. officials
have taken particular umbrage over videos released by Iran showing the
sailors eating or being interviewed. This complaint references the principle
of the Geneva Conventions against subjecting captured soldiers to public

    This same Geneva provision also was an issue - and another example of
Western double standards - in the early days of the U.S.-led invasion of
Iraq in March 2003.

    In the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya, five American soldiers were
captured and their images were broadcast on Iraqi TV. Bush administration
officials immediately denounced the brief televised interviews as a
violation of the Geneva Conventions.

    "It's illegal to do things to POWs that are humiliating to those
prisoners," declared Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

    Rumsfeld's charge was repeated over and over by U.S. television networks
as the American people were agitated to a fever pitch. But American TV
reporters stayed silent about the obvious inconsistency between the outrage
over the footage of the American soldiers and the earlier U.S. broadcasts of
Iraqi prisoners of war.

    The Iraqi POWs had been paraded before U.S. cameras as "proof" that
Iraqi resistance was crumbling - and no U.S. journalist working for a major
news outlet raised any question about a Geneva violation. Some Iraqi POWs
were shown forced at gunpoint to kneel with their hands behind their heads
as they were patted down by U.S. soldiers. Other Iraqis were bound by
plastic handcuffs and shown with bags over their heads.

    Beyond the hypocrisy implicit in the double standards, CNN and other
U.S. cable networks apparently saw no irony in the fact that they presented
these scenes of kneeling and bound Iraqis over the title, "Operation: Iraqi

    Guantanamo Bay

    In protesting alleged Geneva violations by Iraq in March 2003, the U.S.
news media also was silent about the fact that Bush had drawn worldwide
condemnation for his decision to strip many POWs captured in Afghanistan of
their Geneva Convention rights.

    Bush ordered hundreds of these captives to be put in tiny outdoor cages
at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisoners were shaved bald and
forced to kneel with their eyes, ears and mouths covered to deprive them of
their senses.

    The shackled prisoners were filmed shuffling about in leg irons or being
carried on stretchers to interrogation sessions. Their humiliation was
broadcast widely.

    In early 2002, U.S. allies, including some British officials, objected
to the treatment of these prisoners and to Bush's unilateral assertion that
they were "unlawful combatants" outside the protection of international law.

    Legal experts noted that "unlawful combatant" was not even a category
recognized by international law. The Geneva Conventions also required that
detainees whose status was in any doubt must be accorded all enumerated
rights until a "competent tribunal" was established to determine each
individual prisoner's legal status.

    Instead, Bush insisted that he had the sole right to declare which
prisoners were POWs (with protections under the Geneva Conventions) and
which ones were to be considered "unlawful combatants" (with no protections
under the Geneva Conventions). Even Bush-designated POWs only received the
Geneva rights that Bush saw fit to grant.

    Human rights groups charged, too, that the U.S. treatment of some
prisoners crossed the line into torture, which also is forbidden by
international law. According to a variety of public accounts, prisoners have
been subjected to water-boarding, a practice that simulates drowning, and to
painful stress positions for long periods of time.

    For its part, however, the Bush administration has denied engaging in
torture and insists that all prisoners have been treated humanely.

    Though these controversies about Bush's disdain for international law
are well known to the U.S. news media, the context disappeared again when
press interest turned to the captured British sailors in late March 2007.

    Suddenly, it was a new day with Bush and Blair fully committed to
international law. Even a relatively minor Geneva transgression, such as
filming captives eating, became a justification for unrestrained outrage.

    Without any acknowledgement about their own abrogation of international
law, the British and U.S. governments lifted these principles from the
gutter, dusted them off and put them on a pedestal. The grand human rights
defender, George W. Bush, lectured other countries about "inexcusable
behavior" - and no prominent Western journalist called him to account for
his contradictions.


    Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the
Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of
the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999
book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'