Byline: STEPHEN GLOVER
THE story of the alleged massacre at al-Haditha in Iraq provokes a sombre question.
How did a war in which we were supposed to be the good guys, liberating a country from a brutal dictator, turn us into this?
American Congressmen briefed on the massacre expect an official investigation to conclude that soon after 7am on November 19 last year, U.S.
Marines ran amok, killing as many as 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, in cold blood. A dozen Marines reportedly face courts martial or even charges of homicide.
Officials who have seen the findings of the investigation say that it may be the worst known case of misconduct by American ground forces in Iraq, and that includes the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Others draw comparisons with the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, when U.S. soldiers killed more than 500 unarmed villagers. Then, it took 18 months for the truth to emerge.
This time it has taken seven months, but there are plausible charges that the American military has tried to conceal what happened. A separate inquiry is determining whether there has been a cover-up. Given that one arm of officialdom is adjudicating on another, we should not expect too much candour.
BUT whatever the findings, most people in the Middle East, and no doubt many in the rest of the world, will assume there was a cover-up and, moreover, that this massacre was not a one-off. How can one easily contradict them in view of the appalling pictures of the beatings at Abu Ghraib, as well as other unconfirmed stories of American brutality?
The Americans, and the British by close association, long ago lost the moral high ground over Iraq. Our world changed not because of the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, but because of our response to it.
Of course, the outrage showed that we faced a new sort of danger, but the 'war on terror' - which we were almost gleefully told by President George W.
Bush might last more than a generation - was used to justify all manner of illiberal legislation in America and Britain, very little, if any, of which has made us feel any safer.
Mr Bush has repeatedly authorised wiretaps without bothering to obtain a warrant.
Indeed, one of the most distressing aspects of the war in Iraq is the way it has so corrupted public life and morality in America and Britain.
One of the most disgraceful consequences of what the Americans call '9/11' has been the establishment of a prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where hundreds of suspects have been held for months and years without trial, and in some cases subjected to torture. More expert torture has taken place in dodgy countries, friendly to America, to which victims have been transported by U.S.
airplanes in so-called 'rendition' (i.e. torture) flights.
But by far the most disastrous consequence of 9/11 has been the war on Iraq.
President George W. Bush used the attack on America to justify an invasion of that country, and it was suggested, quite preposterously, that Saddam Hussein was in some way an ally of Osama Bin Laden, and was fostering terrorists.
This was the first lie. The second, taken up by Tony Blair with even greater enthusiasm than it was by Mr Bush, was that Saddam Hussein possessed 'weapons of mass destruction'.
This lie - told to justify Britain's support of the American President, who had already decided to invade Iraq - has contaminated our political system like a virus. People's trust in government has declined still further. …