The reaction of the media in the Nato countries to the murder of Boris Nemtsov reveals the next phase of the war against Russia. Defeated at Debaltsevo, defied by Russia, lectured by China, the Nato warlords need something immediate and dramatic to guide the imaginations of their peoples towards war. The constant propaganda offensive aimed at Russia is accelerating and is increasingly designed to identify Russia and its people not with the Russian government, but with a single man and, with the murder of Nemtsov, that man is now labelled assassin.
Across the broad spectrum of the “western” media in the past days there has appeared one story after another designed to make the average citizen believe that President Putin was personally involved in the killing. The facts of the case do not matter. The Nato governments deny any involvement in a provocation but their immediate denunciations, the morning following the murder, of Russian democracy, of Russian government, and of President Putin, convict them all on the charge of exploiting the murder as surely as if the assassins’ bullets were theirs.
The labelling of resisting leaders as criminals has been used frequently in the west since the days of the Roman Empire and once a foreign leader is so labelled a war soon follows. In recent history the Americans and their Nato lieutenants identified President Milosevic as a criminal for simply refusing Nato’s diktats. They did the same with Saddam Hussein, with Muammar Gaddafi and murdered them all, one way or another.
Once a head of state is demeaned in this way and reduced to a common criminal the people of the aggressor country are easily persuaded that his elimination, and the elimination of the government that supports him, is a necessary task. The persuasion has been going on since Putin’s speech in 2007, which drew a line in the sand against American imperial ambitions in Eurasia, and reached new levels of hysteria when Flight MH17 was shot down last year. Evidence that it was probably the Kiev forces that committed the crime, with American collusion, was completely supressed by the western media and when more evidence of their culpability was produced the shoot down was erased from history and now is rarely mentioned. Since the overthrow of the legitimate government of Ukraine a year ago the western media have been caught time and again repeating US propaganda about Russian threats to peace in Europe, about Russian territorial ambitions and Russian regular army units being involved in the Donbass. Denials by Russia, and even observers of the OSCE, are ignored and the lies are repeated day after day after day.
The use of propaganda to incite hatred towards another people or government, and to incite calls for aggressive war and all the war crimes that flow from aggressive war are crimes against humanity and prohibited under international and national laws. Journalists who prostitute themselves by telling their fellow citizens lies are not only betraying the trust put in them by the people, and treating them with contempt, they are also war criminals and should be judged as such. Their responsibility in preparing the way for war is as great as those who plan the war and carry out the military operations of the war.
We need only look at the case of Juluis Streicher at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946 to understand that propagandists can be hanged too. Streicher neither gave orders for the extermination of Jews nor was involved in any military operations. But that did not prevent him from being convicted of crimes against humanity for producing the anti-semitic journal Der Sturmer that put out a constant barrage of hate propaganda against Jews. His role in preparing the ground for the dehumanization of Jews in Germany was determined to be critical in creating the conditions for their extermination by the Nazis. The Nuremberg prosecutors argued that his articles and speeches were incendiary and that he was an accessory to murder and therefore as culpable as those who actually carried out the killings. The Allied judges agreed and he was convicted of crimes against humanity and hanged in October 1946. The judgement stated in part that “…he infected the German mind with the virus of anti-semitism and incited the German people to active persecution and..murder.”
The role of propaganda in preparing a nation’s people to call for and support an aggressive war was never put better than by another Nazi, Herman Goering during the same trial that convicted Streicher. In an interview with Gustave Gilbert published in in 1947, in Nuremberg Diary, he said:
- Göring: “Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.
- Gilbert: “There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
- Göring: “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
The Nuremberg principle that propaganda inciting aggressive war is a crime was codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1966.
Article 20 states,
“1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”
It was also included in Article 15 of the American Convention on Human Rights of 1969 that uses similar language. It is telling that both Canada and the United States, two of the worst offenders in the use of war propaganda, have refused to ratify the Convention, but this should not surprise us.
Today we see the use of propaganda as an offensive weapon against Russia not only in the press and other news media, we also see it in film and television. The American television series House of Cards, has now descended deep into the sewer of anti-Russian propaganda with a Russian leader named Petrov standing in for Putin, while those rank opportunists, Pussy Riot, used to try to embarrass Petrov in one episode, succeed only in embarrassing themselves.
The prohibition on the use of war propaganda in international covenants is important because war threatens the existence and exercise of all of the other political and civil rights contained in those covenants and of the UN Charter itself, including the right to live in peace. And since wars of aggression are illegal under customary international law and since propaganda related to aggressive war is illegal, actions could be taken in national courts against governments, corporations and individuals who engage in it.
The question of the identification of war propaganda presents no more difficulty than identifying aggressive war. Distinguishing it from mere expression of opinion or supposed reporting of facts is also not difficult. Any communication to the public that has the sole purpose of inflaming emotions and feelings of hatred, hostility and calls for war would fall under the definition of war propaganda, whether by distortion of facts, suppression of facts or the invention of facts.
In 1966, at a seminar in the United States on the meaning of propaganda, the Soviet press attaché in Washington stated that propaganda “had rather a broad meaning, implying purposeful dissemination of certain information that is to produce upon its recipient a certain reaction which from the viewpoint of the disseminator is desirable”, and defined war propaganda to be both an “incitement to war between states and a means for preparing for aggressive war.” The United States, on the other hand, has generally opposed efforts to prohibit the use of war propaganda in international law citing concerns about freedom of expression. But this is a false argument, used to justify the unjustifiable, the constant use of propaganda by the United States to create in the minds of its citizens the necessary emotions and reactions to support wars fought for the benefit of a few against the interests of the many.
War propaganda is a danger to world peace. It is a danger to democracy itself. Since wars of aggression are criminal acts, incitements to engage in them are also criminal acts. It is high time for the peoples of the world, against whom this propaganda is directed, and who are the true victims of these crimes, to wake up, to get on their feet, to put their fists in the air and protest the constant manipulation of their minds towards hatred and violence and war and demand the full implementation of the international covenants that prohibit it and the arrest and trial of those that use it.
Christopher Black is an international criminal lawyer based in Toronto, he is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada and he is known for a number of high-profile cases involving human rights and war crimes, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.