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Paul Foot<br>Guardian<p>Tuesday February 20, 2001<p><br>When is a war criminal to be bombed, and when is he to be subsidised? One answer comes this week as a result of the peculiar genius of President Bush and his lapdog in Downing Street. Just as a war criminal, still soaked in the blood of Palestinians whose murders he engineered and authorised in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps nearly 20 years ago, gets elected as prime minister of Israel, so Bush turns the international spotlight on Saddam Hussein and subjects still more Iraqi civilians to another round of "routine" aggression. <p>Saddam, we are reminded, became a war criminal for the gassing of Kurds when US policy in the Middle East was based on unconditional support for him. Such grotesque contradictions pollute all US policy in the Middle East. <p>When Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, a vast array of military force was deployed under the banner of the United Nations to put a stop to such a blatant breach of international law. When Israeli forces invaded the West Bank, the Golan heights and East Jerusalem in 1967, seizing, occupying and exploiting whole tracts of other peoples' territory by force of arms; when the Israeli government refused to give up an acre of that territory as UN resolutions recommended it should; and when this blatant breach of international law was followed up with an equally illegal invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the reaction from the US was to step up aid to Israel, which gets far more money from the US government than any other country in the world. <p>The guiding moral principle of US policy in the Middle East is that war criminals from Israel should be subsidised by the US taxpayer while Arab war criminals should be punished only if and when they threaten the supply of cheap oil to the US. <p>A farcical glimpse of these contradictions came last week from the man who skilfully failed to secure peace in the Middle East: Bill Clinton. Clinton was on television angrily rebutting charges of corruption arising from his last-minute presidential pardon for the appropriately named Marc Rich, a "financier" who has been hiding in Switzerland for 17 years to escape federal charges of tax fraud in the US. <p>Bursting with indignation on the Geraldo Rivera chat show, Clinton made it absolutely clear that the pardon for Rich had nothing whatever to do with the fact that the fugitive's former wife Denise gave a million dollars to the Democratic party; nothing whatever to do with Mrs Rich's handsome donation to Hillary Clinton's campaign to become a New York senator; and absolutely nothing to do with the $450,000 Mrs Rich gave to the Clinton presidential library. None of these things influenced him one jot, said Honest Bill. "Now I'll tell you what did influence me," he added. "Israel influenced me profoundly." <p>His attitude to Mr Rich, so resolute in defiance of all those contributions to his party and his library, had been profoundly moved by a letter from Shabtai Shavit, the former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Mr Shavit described the fugitive financier as "a fine and generous individual" who had "used his extensive network of contacts" all over the world to "produce results" for Mossad. What more persuasive argument could an ex-president with his back to the wall have deployed to sway US public opinion behind him? His party, his wife and his library may have been heavily subsidised by the Rich family, but his real motive in securing a pardon for Mr Rich was to spring to the aid of Mossad and Israel. <p>Anti-Arab, pro-Israel prejudice in the US is as powerful as ever, but in Britain, I would say, it is on the wane. This is thanks at least partly to strong and indignant journalism, including the commentaries from David Hirst and the recent reports from the occupied territories by the Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg. Robert Fisk of the Independent has been gloriously and contemptuously furious at the bombings. <p>But the journalist who has probably done more than any other to bring into our front rooms the suffering of the Iraqi people from western sanctions is John Pilger. Brushing off the ludicrous charge that he is soft on the dictator Hussein, Pilger has identified the real victims of sanctions - the helpless Iraqi civilians whose sickness and suffering flow directly from the economic sanctions which have left the dictator even more powerful than he was 10 years ago. <p>A new book about Pilger's television reporting published next week by Bloomsbury has come under savage attack from his old adversary, William Shawcross. So furious was Shawcross that even before he read the book, he rang Bloomsbury to protest about it. "I think Bloomsbury are making a terrible mistake," he tells the Daily Telegraph. Mr Shawcross helped to found the anti-censorship organisation Article 19 in 1988 with a moving commendation. "Freedom of speech is indivisible," he revealed. Yet this is not the first time he has personally intervened to influence a publication. <p>A long article in the Observer in March 1997 asked whether a former Czech dissident Jan Kavan was an agent for the hated Czech secret police StB under the former Stalinist regime. The article stated: "Among his contacts Kavan knew a British citizen - Mr X - who the StB had identified to their own satisfaction as a British intelligence officer." In the original article, Mr X was named as Shawcross. Whether or not the Czechs were right - they were often wrong - that he had links with British intelligence (and certainly Mr X emerges from the article with considerable credit) Shawcross moved heaven and earth to have his name held out. <p>In his latest diatribe in the Telegraph, Shawcross denounces John Pilger's television programmes as "rubbish". This seems rather harsh since as far as I know John Pilger has not published (as Shawcross has) long, profound, boring and flattering studies of those two specialists in rubbish, the former Shah of Iran and Rupert Murdoch. <br>