The anniversary of the fateful day when US troops took the Iraqi capital Baghdad in 2003 will no doubt be marked this week with a deafening silence in Washington, because it was also the day when the so-called victors looted and plundered the country's banks. The fact that such daylight robbery was being filmed by the media was no deterrent to the thieves.
I was reminded of this crime by a small AP video clip on social media by editor and founder of Liberated Texts, Louis Allday. As I watched US soldiers using a tank and sledgehammer to rob a bank, I recalled a quote by 19th-century French economist Frédéric Bastiat: "When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it." Could the criminal behaviour of the US, Britain and the West in recent times be described any more accurately?
Fast forward to 2022, and we have seen Afghanistan's Central Bank reserves being taken by the US Treasury. President Joe Biden didn't use anything as crude as a tank or a hammer to plunder the assets of the Afghan people from the bank, but his sophisticated use of digital technology had the same effect.
As I wrote recently in MEMO, the US may have withdrawn its troops last year, but it has launched a second — less violent but equally devastating — attack on Afghanistan following 20 years of a futile occupation costing countless innocent Afghan lives. As I travel around Afghanistan at the moment, I can bear witness to the hardship forced on innocent people by America's economic warfare as they continue to be punished for a crime — the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US — that had nothing to do with them.
Sadly, as the US invasion and occupation of Iraq demonstrated, destruction and looting of banks, museums and other national treasures are nothing new for the neo-colonial Americans. Nevertheless, I was still taken aback when the head of Kabul Airport told me this weekend how tens of millions of dollars of damage was caused by US troops who went on a wholesale rampage last August as they scrambled to leave Afghanistan.
At the time, they were being protected by their unwitting Taliban counterparts on the outer perimeter of the airport during the chaotic US-led evacuation. Around 30 Taliban and 13 US troops died in a Daesh-led terror attack as the chaotic evacuation emerged. Had the ungrateful Americans focused more on evacuating innocent civilians and asylum-seekers, they might not have left behind so many of their own people or those whom Washington promised a new life in the US.
A few days ago Iranian media reported that $7 billion of Iran's money frozen under US sanctions will be made available in exchange for the release of three US-Iranian dual citizens held by Tehran. An article headlined "Releasing Iran's blocked assets via non-nuclear means" explained that Iran had been demanding the unfreezing of funds in South Korea. Coincidence or not, the announcement was made around the time that Tehran was in talks in Vienna over its nuclear programme. By the time you read this, the three Iranian Americans —Siamak Namazi, Bagher Namazi and Morad Tahbaz — should be free in exchange for Tehran to have access to Iranian funds frozen in two South Korean banks. Economic warfare has many uses.
Britain also finds it difficult to shake off its grim, colonial past. The British government agreed recently to return £400 million to Iran, which had been paid by the Shah of Iran for 1,500 tanks before he was ousted in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. This 40-year-old debt was finally repaid in exchange for the release of two British Iranians, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori. The British government had prevaricated on this issue for years, displaying an appalling reluctance to pay the money back, even when it would mean that two innocent people could be set free.
Of course, Britain's shocking historical contempt for the "Others" of this world hasn't always just involved money. In 1917, Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour promised a piece of land in the Middle East over which the British people had no sovereignty or jurisdiction to a second group of people to the detriment of a third group of people already living there, the Palestinians.
Then, as now, it was the innocent people who suffered as a result of the actions of a powerful minority. In Iran, those people were individuals, whereas in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan the wholesale theft and looting has had a deadly impact on millions of people and looks set to do so for decades to come.
Call me naïve, but I was brought up to believe that "crime doesn't pay", and that if you take cash in exchange for goods that you fail to deliver, it is called theft; if you walk into a bank or other business and stick your hand in the safe, it is also called theft; and if you take control of land without the permission of the owners and give it away to someone else, then that too is theft.
However, if you are already rich and powerful it seems that you can commit crimes on a massive scale in full view of a watching world and get away with it. By any stretch of the imagination, such behaviour is simply not legitimate, no matter how it is dressed up and presented to the world. That is why international law was developed to protect the innocent and powerless, but that law is being abused at best, and totally ignored at worst.
I don't care what the US, Britain et al call it, but it is not justice. We might be powerless to prevent such state-approved theft on a grand scale, but we should never be afraid to call it out and expose the criminals for what they are.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.