Lies, deceit and conspiracies

British PM Tony Blair (right) looks at US President George W Bush at a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on June 7, 2005. PHOTO: REUTERS

These days the world is faced with a barrage of lies from powerful leaders. They often make statements that contravene international law but major media outlets carry them as "news" quite convincingly. What is extremely distressing is that these lies have led to wars in the past and can lead to wars again.

President George Bush in January 2002 identified Iraq as part of an "axis of evil" and decided to remove Saddam Hussein militarily as he was accused of harbouring al-Qaeda and possessing weapons of mass destruction. UN inspectors led by Swedish diplomat Hans Blix made thorough inspections but found no evidence of WMDs in Iraq. US Secretary of State Collin Powell made an impassioned speech at the UN Security Council in February 2003 claiming that Saddam Hussein possessed biological weapons. All the while the western media conveniently played along with the lies of George Bush.

Not surprisingly, warmongering British PM Tony Blair became George Bush's accessory and went about peddling stories of WMD and al-Qaeda. Blair travelled around world capitals, including Dhaka, to get support for the lies being fabricated at Washington and London. By mid-March 2003, the war crescendo had reached such a height that there was no turning back, though the UNSC could not agree on a resolution for military action against Saddam Hussein.

Iraq's complete destruction and Saddam's execution are now history. The Chilcot Report published in 2016 in London established that Tony Blair lied to Parliament to build the case for the war against Saddam.

The war on Libya to remove Muammar Gaddafi was also based on deception. American, French, and British war planes used Italian bases under Nato Command and took part in the military operation to oust Gaddafi who was eventually killed in October 2011. President Obama, President Nicholas Sarkozy, PM David Cameron and PM Stephen Harper were all involved in pushing the UNSC resolution authorising military intervention in the name of protecting Libyan civilians. 

The recent Sergei Skripal episode is one of convoluted lies. Sergei is a former Russian military officer and British spy who acted as a double agent for UK. On March 13, PM Theresa May told Parliament that it was "highly likely" that Russia was responsible for the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Apparently, Sergei and Yulia were poisoned with Novichok nerve agent. Moscow's explanation was simple: it had nothing to do with the Skripals. Subsequent expulsion of 100 Russian diplomats from Britain, US and other capitals was done to convince the world that Russia was culpable.

Here is the intriguing part of the story. Britain did not allow any journalist to see, even from a distance, the Skripals in hospital. Nor were their photographs released to the media after the alleged attack. Britain also did not hand over to Russia samples of the nerve agent that was apparently used on Skripals. Skripals' whereabouts remained unknown after their release from hospital.

The analysis of Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) did confirm that a nerve agent was used but could not identify the origin of the chemical agent. OPCW did not obtain the samples from the Skripals. Thus no causal link could be established between the Skripals' poisoning and Russia.

Incidentally, Novichok is produced and patented in US, which is yet to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal, as required under Chemical Weapons Convention 1997.

Even if one assumes that Theresa May was telling the truth, why wasn't there any transparency? Apparently, neither Britain nor Russia was telling the truth. One can probably link it to the events that unfolded in Syria a few days later. Isn't Theresa May, after all, a follower of Tony Blair?

On April 7, Syrian opposition activists claimed that the Bashar al-Assad regime used chemical weapons killing 40 civilians in Douma—a town held by rebel forces. This news along with video clips of children being given medical aid brought angry responses from Donald Trump, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron. Trump threatened that the use of chemical weapons will not go unpunished. So in the early hours of April 14, US, UK and French planes and missiles attacked three sites in Syria to destroy Assad's chemical weapon stockpiles.

The mysterious part of the story is this: who exactly used the chemical weapons? Was it the Assad regime or was it the rebels? Did the US attack really obliterate the chemical weapon arsenal of Assad, if any? Strangely, why did Russian military soldiers fighting alongside Assad's not get hit? Why did Syria delay the OPCW inspector visit to Douma? OPCW is yet to give a report on its findings. It appears that the US-led West, which failed to bring a resolution to the Syrian civil war, wanted to reenter Syria with all its military might. 

Donald Trump was against the Iran nuclear deal all along. He insidiously lied about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) giving little credence to the reports of IAEA. Israel's mendacious hyperbolist Netanyahu made an appearance on a farcical TV show on May 8, claiming that Iran had a clandestine nuclear programme. This absurd show was designed to convince Trump to ditch JCPOA, which Trump did on May 8. Israel also launched attacks on so-called Iranian targets in Syria on May 10, claiming that Iran fired rockets on Israeli positions in the Golan Heights. Clearly, Netanyahu lied to provoke Iran into a confrontation, which in turn would invite US reaction. Iran rejected the Israeli claims, claiming them to be fabricated. All this was widely reported in the western media.

Donald Trump's chicanery about Jerusalem and opening of the American embassy there has already led to the death of more than 50 Palestinians since Monday.

However, deception is not a monopoly of western leaders. Vladimir Putin lied consistently about Ukraine and his clandestine support for the separatists of eastern Ukraine that caused hundreds of deaths. Chinese leaders also resort to hypocrisy when it comes to the South China Sea.

One wonders, with so much deceit and conspiracies going around, can the world ever become a safe place?

Mahmood Hasan is a former ambassador and secretary of the Bangladesh government.

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