Date: Fri Dec 26 2008 - 22:14:50 EST
Remembering Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter - "Is Our Conscience Dead?"
Friday 26 December 2008
by: Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter. (Photo: Reuters)
On the news today of the death of Harold Pinter, the winner of the
2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, I remembered hearing his Nobel Laureate
lecture/acceptance speech. I was in London in December 2005, speaking at
the annual Stop the War conference when Pinter delivered his speech - not
in Oslo, as Pinter was very sick and could not travel, but in London via TV
I was amazed and thrilled that he chose to use the Nobel Prize
platform and devote a huge portion of his speech to shining an
international spotlight on the tragic effects of the past decades of US
foreign policy and particularly, on George Bush and Tony Blair's decisions
to invade and occupy Iraq, on Guantanamo and on torture.
Pinter's Laureate speech question, "Is Our Conscience Dead?" is most
relevant today when three years after his acceptance speech, "Art, Truth
and Politics," Bush, Cheney, Rice and other administration officials are
either trying to rewrite history or, as in Cheney's case - purposefully
revealing his role in specific criminal acts of torture and daring the
American legal system and people to hold him accountable.
Following is the part of Pinter's lecture that speaks to the invasion
of Iraq, torture and Guantanamo - and our collective and individual
"Art, Truth and Politics"
Noble Lecture by Harold Pinter
December 7, 2005
"... The United States no longer ... sees any point in being reticent
or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It
quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international
law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant.
It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead,
the pathetic and supine Great Britain.
What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What
do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these
days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do
with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead?
Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for
over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically
detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in
defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly
thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal
outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the
leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo
Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally - a small
item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which
indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being
force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding
procedures. No sedative or anesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and
into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture.
What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What
has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because
the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay
constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So
Blair shuts up.
The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state
terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international
law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of
lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the
public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic
control of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort - all other
justifications having failed to justify themselves - as liberation. A
formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and
mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.
We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable
acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people
and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.
How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described
as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand?
More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush
and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice.
But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal
Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter
politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in
the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore
available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're
interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.
Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death
well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by
American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people
are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not
even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American
general Tommy Franks.
Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front
page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little
Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was
a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy
with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only
survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped.
Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other
mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It
dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on
The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to
their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The
mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead
and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.
I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about
putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared
policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'. That is not my term, it
is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and
space and all attendant resources.
The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout
the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of
course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all
The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear
warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with
15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as
bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace
their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at?
Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do
know is that this infantile insanity - the possession and threatened use of
nuclear weapons - is at the heart of present American political philosophy.
We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military
footing and show no sign of relaxing it.
Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself
are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's
actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force - yet.
But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the
United States is unlikely to diminish.
I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers
but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following
short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him
grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling,
sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.
'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's
God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have
one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's
heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am
the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a
compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and
compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator.
He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess
moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't
you forget it.'
I hope you will decide that yes, we do have a conscience and that you
will join the millions of Americans who say we must hold accountable those
who have committed criminal acts while in government - the policy makers as
well as the implementers.
Write and call the new President and the new Congress and demand
official investigations into war crimes and other criminal acts committed
by members of the Bush administration and join us on Inauguration day to
remind the new President of his responsibilities.
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