US Media Yet Again Conceals Newsworthy Government Secrets February 7, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in War on Terror.
Tags: american press, counterterrorism, drone missiles, glenn greenwald, guardian, john brennan, journalism, Media, new york times, obama kill list, roger hollander, saudi arabia drones, state secrecy, washington post, whistleblower
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The collective self-censorship over a US drone base in Saudi Arabia is but the latest act of government-subservient ‘journalism’
The US media, over the last decade (at least), has repeatedly acted to conceal newsworthy information it obtains about the actions of the US government. In each instance, the self-proclaimed adversarial press corps conceals these facts at the behest of the US government, based on patently absurd claims that reporting them will harm US national security. In each instance, what this media concealment actually accomplishes is enabling the dissemination of significant government falsehoods without challenge, and permitting the continuation of government deceit and even illegality.
The Washington Post this week admitted it was part of an “informal arrangement” to conceal from its readers a US drone base in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Alamy
One of the most notorious examples was in mid-2004 when the New York Times discovered – thanks to a courageous DOJ whistleblower – that the Bush administration was eavesdropping on the electronic communications of Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law. But after George Bush summoned to the Oval Office the paper’s publisher (Arthur Sulzberger) and executive editor (Bill Keller) and directed them to conceal what they had learned, the NYT complied by sitting on the story for a-year-and-a-half: until late December, 2005, long after Bush had been safely re-elected. The “national security” excuse for this concealment was patently ludicrous from the start: everyone knew the US government was trying to eavesdrop on al-Qaida communications and this story merely revealed that they were doing so illegally (without warrants) rather than legally (with warrants). By concealing the story for so long, the New York Times helped the Bush administration illegally spy on Americans.
The Washington Post’s Dana Priest, in a superb act of journalism, reported in 2005 that the CIA was maintaining a network of secret “black sites” where detainees were interrogated and abused beyond the monitoring scrutiny of human rights groups and even Congress. But the Post purposely concealed the identity of the countries serving as the locale of those secret prisons in order to enable the plainly illegal program to continue without bothersome disruptions: “the Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior US officials.”
In 2011, the New York Times along with numerous other US media outlets learned that the American arrested in Pakistan for having shot and killed two Pakistanis, Raymond Davis, was not – as President Obama falsely claimed – “our diplomat”, but was a CIA agent and former Blackwater contractor. Not only did the NYT conceal this fact, but it repeatedly and uncritically printed claims from Obama and other officials about Davis’ status which it knew to be false. It was only once the Guardian published the facts about Davis – that he was a CIA agent – did the Times tell the truth to its readers, admitting that the disclosure “pulled back the curtain on a web of covert American operations inside Pakistan, part of a secret war run by the CIA“.
The NYT, as usual, justified its concealment of this obviously newsworthy information as coming “at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk”. But as the Guardian’s Deputy Editor Ian Katz noted, “Davis [was] already widely assumed in Pakistan to have links to US intelligence” and “disclosing his CIA role would [therefore not] expose him to increased risk”.
And now, yet again, the US media has been caught working together to conceal obviously newsworthy government secrets. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that two years ago, the Obama administration established a base in Saudi Arabia from which it deploys drones to kill numerous people in Yemen. including US citizen Anwar Awlaki and, two weeks, later his 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman. The US base was built after the US launched a December, 2009 cruise missile/cluster-bomb attack that slaughtered dozens of Yemeni women and children.
But the Post admitted that it – along with multiple other US media outlets – had long known about the Saudi Arabia drone base but had acted in unison to conceal it from the US public:
“The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
“The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”
The “other news organization” which the Post references is the New York Times. The NYT – in a very good article yesterday on the role played by CIA nominee John Brennan in US drones strikes in Yemen – reported that Brennan “work[ed] closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret CIA drone base there that is used for American strikes”. As the paper’s Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, explained, the NYT was one of the papers which “had withheld the location of that base at the request of the CIA”, but had decided now to report it. That was why the Post did so.
The existence of this drone base in Saudi Arabia is significantly newsworthy in multiple ways. The US drone program is drenched with extreme secrecy. The assassination of Awlaki is one of the most radical acts the US government has undertaken in the last decade at least. The intense cooperation between the US and the incomparably despotic Saudi regime is of vital significance. As Sullivan, the NYT’s Public Editor, put it in defending the NYT’s disclosure (and implicitly questioning the prior media conspiracy of silence):
“Given the government’s undue secrecy about the drone program, which it has never officially acknowledged the existence of, and that program’s great significance to America’s foreign policy, its national security, and its influence on the tumultuous Middle East, The Times ought to be reporting as much and as aggressively as possible on it.”
As usual, the excuses for concealing this information are frivolous. Indeed, as the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade noted, “the location of several drone bases was published as long ago as September last year on at least one news website, as this item on the North America Inter Press Service illustrates.” Gawker’s Adrian Chen documents numerous other instances where the base had been publicly disclosed and writes:
“In the case of the Saudi drone base, the Times and the Post weren’t protecting a state secret: They were helping the CIA bury an inconvenient story. . . . The fact that the drone base was already reported renders the rationale behind the months-long blackout a farce.”
In an article on the controversy over this self-censorship, the Guardian this morning quotes Dr Jack Lule, a professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University:
“The decision not to publish is a shameful one. The national security standard has to be very high, perhaps imminent danger. The fact that we are even having a conversation about whether it was a national security issue should have sent alarm bells off to the editors. I think the real reason was that the administration did not want to embarrass the Saudis – and for the US news media to be complicit in that is craven.”
The same dynamic drives most of these acts of US media self-censorship. It has nothing to do with legitimate claims of national security. Indeed, none of these facts – once they were finally reported – ultimately resulted in any harm. Instead, it has everything to do with obeying government dictates; shielding high-level government officials from embarrassing revelations; protecting even the most extreme government deceit and illegality; and keeping the domestic population of the US (their readers) ignorant of the vital acts in which their own government is engaged.
There are, of course, instances where newspapers can validly opt to conceal facts that they learn. That’s when the harm that comes from disclosure plainly outweighs the public interest in learning of them (the classic case is when, in a war, a newspaper learns of imminent troop movements: there is no value in reporting that but ample harm from doing so). But none of these instances comes close to meeting that test. Instead, media outlets overwhelmingly abide by government dictates as to what they should conceal. As Greensdale wrote: “most often, they oblige governments by acceding to requests not to publish sensitive information that might jeopardise operations.”
As all of these examples demonstrate, extreme levels of subservience to US government authority is embedded in the ethos of the establishment American media. They see themselves not as watchdogs over the state but as loyal agents of it.
Recall the extraordinary 2009 BBC debate over WikiLeaks in which former NYT executive editor Bill Keller proudly praised himself for concealing information the Obama administration told him to conceal, prompting this incredulous reply from the BBC host: “Just to be clear, Bill Keller, are you saying that you sort of go to the government in advance and say: ‘What about this, that and the other, is it all right to do this and all right to do that,’ and you get clearance, then?” Keller’s admission also prompted this response from former British diplomat Carne Ross, who was also on the program: “It’s extraordinary that the New York Times is clearing what it says about this with the US Government.”
After the Guardian published the truth about Raymond Davis, former Bush DOJ laywer Jack Goldsmith, in 2011, defended the New York Times’ concealment of it by hailing what he called “the patriotism of the American press“. He quoted former Bush CIA and NSA chief Gen. Michael Hayden as saying that “American journalists display ‘a willingness to work with us’ . . . but with the foreign press ‘it’s very, very difficult’”. Goldsmith said that while foreign media outlets will more readily report on secret US government acts (he named The Guardian, Al Jazeera and WikiLeaks), US national security journalists with whom he spoke justified their eagerness to cooperate with the US government by “expressly ascrib[ing] this attitude to ‘patriotism’ or ‘jingoism’ or to being American citizens or working for American publications.”
That is the key truth. The entity that is designed to be, and endlessly praises itself for being, a check on US government power is, in fact, its most loyal servant. There are significant exceptions: Dana Priest did disclose the CIA black sites network over the agency’s vehement objections, while the NYT is now suing the government to compel the release of classified documents relating to Obama’s assassination program. But time and again, one finds the US media acting to help suppress the newsworthy secrets of the US government rather than report on them. Its collaborative “informal” agreement to hide the US drone base in Saudi Arabia is just the latest in a long line of such behavior.
Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.
The New York Times vs. Single Mothers August 15, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Women.
Tags: child poverty, family, father figure, food stamps, legal momentum, Media, misogyny, new york times, roger hollander, single mother families, single mothers, welfare, women poverty
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Tags: aipac, atomic energy, iaea, Iran, iran nuclear, israel, journalism, judy miller, likud, new york times, nuclear capabilities, nuclear weapons, roger hollander, rogert naiman
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It’s deja vu all over again. AIPAC is trying to trick America into another catastrophic war with a Middle Eastern country on behalf of the Likud Party’s colonial ambitions, and the New York Times is lying about allegations that said country is developing “weapons of mass destruction.”
In an article attributed to Steven Erlanger on January 4 (“Europe Takes Bold Step Toward a Ban on Iranian Oil “), this paragraph appeared:
The threats from Iran, aimed both at the West and at Israel, combined with a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran’s nuclear program has a military objective, is becoming an important issue in the American presidential campaign. [my emphasis]
The claim that there is “a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran’s nuclear program has a military objective” is a lie.
As Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton noted on December 9,
But the IAEA report does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one, only that its multiyear effort pursuing nuclear technology is sophisticated and broad enough that it could be consistent with building a bomb.
Indeed, if you try now to find the offending paragraph on the New York Times website, you can’t. They took it down. But there is no note, like there is supposed to be, acknowledging that they changed the article, and that there was something wrong with it before. Sneaky, huh?
But you can still find the original here. Indeed, at this writing, if you go to the New York Times website, and search on the phrase, “military objective,” the article pops right up. But if you open the article, the text is gone. But again, there is no explanatory note saying that they changed the text.
This is not an isolated example in the Times‘ reporting. The very same day – January 4 – the New York Times published another article, attributed to Clifford Krauss (“Oil Price Would Skyrocket if Iran Closed the Strait of Hormuz “), that contained the following paragraph.
Various Iranian officials in recent weeks have said they would blockade the strait, which is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, if the United States and Europe imposed a tight oil embargo on their country in an effort to thwart its development of nuclear weapons [my emphasis].
At this writing, that text is still on the New York Times website.
Of course, referring to Iran’s “development of nuclear weapons” without qualification implies that it is a known fact that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. But it is not a known fact. It is an allegation. Indeed, when U.S. officials are speaking publicly for the record, they say the opposite. As Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton noted on December 9,
This is what the U.S. director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March: “We continue to assess [that] Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.
To demand a correction, you can write to the New York Times here. To write a letter to the editor, you can write to the New York Times here. To complain to the New York Times‘ Public Editor, you write him here.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.
Tags: bradley manning, cia, first amendment, freedom of the press, james risen, jeffrey sterling, journalists, judy miller, Media, national security, new york times, niemoller, orory o'commor, press freedom, roger hollander, thomas drake, whistle-blowing
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By Rory O’Connor
the sleazy, Bush-like tactics of the Obamacrats and the burgeoning national
staunch anti-Communist who supported Hitler’s rise to power — at first. He
later became disillusioned, however, and led a group of German clergymen opposed
to Hitler. In 1937 Niemoller was arrested for the crime of “not being
enthusiastic enough about the Nazi movement” and later was sent to concentration
camps. Rescued in 1945 by the Allies, he became a leading post-war voice of
reconciliation for the German people.
Niemoller is most famous for his well-known
and frequently quoted statement detailing the dangers of political apathy in the
face of repression. Although it described the inactivity of Germans following
the Hitler’s rise to power and his violent purging of group after group of
German citizens, his statement lives on as a universal description of the
dangers of not standing up against tyranny.
The text of the Niemoller’s statement is
usually presented as follows:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for
I was reminded of Niemoller recently when
federal prosecutors issued a subpoena intended to force New York Times
reporter James Risen, the author of a book on the Central Intelligence Agency,
to testify at the criminal trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer.
Sterling was charged as part of a wide-ranging Obama administration crackdown on
officials accused of disclosing restricted information to journalists.
Now the Obama Justice Department is
threatening to jail a journalist as well — unless Risen tells them if Sterling
or someone else leaked information about the CIA’s efforts to sabotage the
Iranian nuclear program.
The subpoena, as Charlie Savage reported recently in the Times, “tells Mr. Risen
that ‘you are commanded’ to appear at federal district court in Alexandria, Va.,
on Sept. 12 to testify in the case. A federal district judge, Leonie M.
Brinkema, quashed a similar subpoena to Mr. Risen last year, when prosecutors
were trying to persuade a grand jury to indict Mr. Sterling.”
Risen rightly says he will ask the judge to
quash the new subpoena as well, stating forthrightly, “I will always protect my
sources,” and rightly that, “this is a fight about the First Amendment and the
freedom of the press.”
It’s bad enough that ever since President
Obama took office, he has repeatedly gone after whistleblowers like Sterling
with a cold vengeance, charging more people in cases involving leaking
information than “all previous presidents combined,” as Savage noted.
But Obama administration officials are no
longer content just with targeting whistleblowers like Sterling, former National
Security Agency official Thomas Drake, (who goes on trial soon on charges of
providing classified information to The Baltimore Sun) and of course
Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused – and already pronounced
guilty by the president — of passing classified documents to Wikileaks.org. Now
they are coming for the journalists as well – just as Bush Administration
officials did before them. And if Risen’s subpoena is not quashed and he still
refuses to testify, he risks being held in contempt and imprisoned, just as
Times reporter Judy Miller was for 85 days for her refusal to testify
in connection with the Valerie Plame Wilson leak in 2005.
Obama’s prosecutors argue that the First
Amendment doesn’t give Risen any right to avoid testifying about his
confidential sources in a criminal proceeding, and that the Pulitzer Prize
winner should be compelled to provide information to a jury “like any other
Citizens as well as journalists need to stand up for Risen and against the
sleazy, Bush-like tactics of the Obamacrats and the burgeoning national security
state. Otherwise, if you don’t speak out when they come, first for the
whistleblowers, and then for the journalists, when they come for you, there will
be no one left to speak out…
Tags: david krieger, john bolton, john yoo, new york times, non-proliferation, nuclear, nuclear arsenals, nuclear weapons, peace, roger hollander, russia, start, treaty, war
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by David Krieger
Let me answer the question posed in the title of their article. The Senate should support and ratify this treaty because it will strengthen U.S. national security by:
- reducing the size of the bloated nuclear arsenals in both countries, creating a new lower level from which to make further reductions;
- reinstating verification procedures that ended with the expiration of the first START agreement in December 2009;
- building confidence in the Russians that we stand behind our agreements; and
- sending a signal to the rest of the world that we are taking steps to fulfill our legal commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to achieve nuclear disarmament.
The downsides of failing to ratify the treaty would be to remove restraints on the size of the Russian arsenal, forego inspection and verification of the Russian arsenal, undermine Russian confidence in U.S. commitments, and encourage further nuclear proliferation by other countries thereby increasing the possibilities of nuclear terrorism. Further, if the treaty is not ratified before the new Congress is seated in January 2011, its future ratification will be far more difficult.
What do Bolton and Yoo say they want? First, to remove language in the treaty’s preamble, which is not legally binding, that says there is an “interrelationship” between nuclear weapons and defensive systems. That language only recognizes a reality. Of course, there is a relationship between missiles and missile defenses. Second, they don’t want the U.S. to be limited in putting conventional weapons on formerly nuclear launch systems. But that is a price, and a fair one, that each side will pay for lowering the other side’s nuclear capabilities. Third, they want a Congressional act for the financing, testing and development of new U.S. warhead designs before the treaty is ratified. In other words, they want guarantees that the U.S. nuclear arsenal will be modernized. They seek long-term reliance on the U.S. nuclear threat, but this means that U.S. citizens will also remain under nuclear threat for the long-term.
Bolton and Yoo are an interesting pair. The first would lop ten floors off the United Nations, the second do away with the laws of war when they aren’t convenient. Do they deserve their own opinions? Of course. Do their opinions make any sense? Only in the context of the American exceptionalism and militarism that were the trademarks of the Bush II administration and have done so much to weaken the spirit, values and resources of the country while continuing to haunt us in our aggressive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One must wonder what possessed the New York Times to publish their rantings. Additionally, using the word “Nukes” in the title suggests somehow that nuclear weapons are cute enough to have nicknames and not a serious threat to the very existence of civilization. That Bolton and Yoo could rise to high positions in our country is a sad commentary on the country, but perhaps understandable in the context of the Bush II administration’s persistent flaunting of international law. That the New York Times would find sufficient merit in their discredited opinions to publish their article is an even sadder commentary on the editorial integrity of one of the country’s most respected newspapers.
Tags: bush administration, cheney, George Bush, journalism, los angeles times, Media, new york times, reporting, thurgood marshall, torture, truth, waterboardng, will bunch
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I’m sorry — there is no other hand. Waterboarding is torture, period. It’s been that way for decades — it was torture when we went after Japanese war criminals who used the ancient and inhumane interrogation tactic, it was torture when Pol Pot and some of the worst dictators known to mankind used it against their own people, and it was torture to the U.S. military which once punished soldiers who adopted the grim practice.
And waterboarding was described as “torture,” almost without fail, in America’s newspapers.
Until 2004, after the arrival of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their criminal notions of “enhanced interrogations.” For four years — in what would have to be the bizarro-world version of “speaking truth to power,” waterboarding was almost never torture on U.S. newsprint. Then waterboarding-as-torture nearly made a mild comeback in journo-world, until perpetrators like Cheney and Inquirer op-ed columnist John Yoo began the big pushback, when American newspapers bravely turned their tails and fled.
From the early 1930′s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27). By contrast, from 2002-2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture.
The report also notes that waterboarding had constantly been referred to as torture by newspapers when other nations did it, but when the United States did it in the 2000s, it was, to paraphrase Richard Nixon, not illegal. The study proves scientifically something we’ve been talking about here at Attytood since Day One, about the tragic consequences of the elevation of an unnatural notion of objectivity in which newspapers abandoned any core human values — even when it comes to something as clear cut as torture — to give equal moral weight to both sides of an not-so-debatable issue (not to mention treating scientific issues like climate changes in the same zombie-like manner).
Never before in my adult life have I been so ashamed of my profession, journalism.
As soon as Republicans started quibbling over the definition of torture, traditional media outlets felt compelled to treat the issue as a “controversial” matter, and in order to appear as though they weren’t taking a side, media outlets treated the issue as unsettled, rather than confronting a blatant falsehood. To borrow John Holbo’s formulation, the media, confronted with the group think of two sides of an argument, decided to eliminate the “think” part of the equation so they could be “fair” to both groups.
The irony that Serwer notes — and I completely agree — is that in claiming they were working so hard not to take “a side,” the journalists who wouldn’t call waterboarding “torture” were absolutely taking a side and handing a victory to the Bush administration, which convinced newspapers to stop unambiguously describing this crime as they had done for decades prior to 2004. It’s a tactic that has continued to this day. It’s the reason why Cheney– who’d been nearly invisible when he was in power — and Yoo were suddenly all over the place beginning on Jan. 21, 2009, because they were desperately trying to keep framing this debate as the newspapers had, that their torture tactics were a public, political disagreement, and not a war crime.
And tragically, they succeeded. They were America’s leaders, they tortured, and they got away with it. And newspapers and other journalists drove the getaway car.
I do think this report frames a much broader problem in America, which is that we’ve lost our ability to distinguish right from wrong on its most basic level, because of our need to filter everything through some kind of bogus political prism. Look past torture, and look at the Elena Kagan hearings down in Washington, and the shameful way that Republican senators have desecrated the memory of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. What made Marshall a great American is that he started with an alienable truth — that segregation and other unequal treatment of blacks or other minorities are a sin against mankind — and that it was our duty not just as Americans but as human beings to end that injustice by any peaceful means necessary. If Marshall had behaved the way that the 2010 Republican Party would want him to act, forget the notion of an African-American president — there would be water fountains in some American states where Barack Obama could not get a drink.
Increasingly, we’re losing our perspective, maybe our minds. We have candidates for the U.S. Congress comparing the taxes that we pay to finance the U.S. military or to pay for public schools to slavery, or to the Nazi-led Holocaust. As Americans, we should all seek higher ground over what we talk about when we talk about slavery, and what we talk about when we talk about torture.
And yet even some of my own colleagues failed — journalists who started out with a mission to tell the truth and who got very, very lost in a thicket of politics and perhaps self-importance along the way.
And that is beyond shameful.
© 2010 Media Matters for America
The Bad PR of Dead Civilians May 11, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Media, War.
Tags: afghan airstrikes, afghanistan atrocities, Afghanistan civilian casualties, afghanistan civilian deaths, afghanistan occuption, Afghanistan War, cnn, corporate media, dead civilians, farah, journalism, new york times, obama administration, public relations, reporting, Robert Gates, roger hollander, Taliban, taliban militants, wall street journal, washington post
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Published on Monday, May 11, 2009 by FAIR
Afghan airstrikes and the corporate media
Early reports of a massive U.S. attack on civilians in western Afghanistan last week (5/5/09) hewed to a familiar corporate media formula, stressing official U.S. denials and framing the scores of dead civilians as a PR setback for the White House’s war effort.
Scanning the headlines gave a sense of the media’s view of the tragedy: “Civilian Deaths Imperil Support for Afghan War” (New York Times, 5/7/09), “Claim of Afghan Civilian Deaths Clouds U.S. Talks” (Wall Street Journal, 5/7/09), “Afghan Civilian Deaths Present U.S. With Strategic Problem” (Washington Post, 5/8/09).
As is frequently the case with such incidents (Extra! Update, 8/07), the primary fallout would seem to be the damage done to U.S. goals. The New York Times reported that civilian deaths “have been a decisive factor in souring many Afghans on the war.” As CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric put it (5/6/09), “Reports of these civilian casualties could not have come at a worse time, as the Obama administration launches its new strategy to eradicate the Taliban and convince the Afghan people to support those efforts.” Other outlets used very similar language to explain why the timing was “particularly sensitive” (Washington Post, 5/7/09) or “awkward” (Associated Press, 5/7/09) for the Obama administration.
While it is important to be cautious about early reports of such atrocities, many accounts played up U.S. denials. Some anonymous U.S. military officials vigorously denied that they were responsible, instead blaming the deaths on Taliban grenades and use of “human shields.”
The New York Times reported (5/7/09):
“Defense Department officials said late Wednesday that investigators were looking into witnesses’ reports that the Afghan civilians were killed by grenades hurled by Taliban militants, and that the militants then drove the bodies around the village claiming the dead were victims of an American airstrike.
“The initial examination of the site and of some of the bodies suggested the use of armaments more like grenades than the much larger bombs used by attack planes, said the military official, who requested anonymity because the investigation was continuing.”
It is troubling to see an anonymous source given so much space to make such an elaborate case, seemingly based on little evidence. By the next day’s edition of the Times (5/8/09), military sources appeared to be backtracking: “Initial American military reports that some of the casualties might have been caused by Taliban grenades, not American airstrikes, were ‘thinly sourced,’ a Pentagon official in Washington said Thursday, indicating that he was uncertain of their accuracy.” That “thin” sourcing was good enough for most of the press, though, and similar instances continued.
On CNN’s American Morning (5/8/09), anchor Kiran Chetry announced, “CNN is learning that the Taliban may have been using women, children and men as human shields during U.S. air strikes earlier this week.” That would stretch the meaning of “learning” quite a bit, since CNN’s reporter from Afghanistan, Stan Grant, had little to report beyond vague official assertions (“We’re still waiting for a formal statement, a formal report to come down from the U.S. military here in Kabul”). CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr had already (5/6/09) floated the “much grimmer scenario” coming from U.S. officials–that the Taliban had killed civilians and then paraded them around the area.
On May 8, the Washington Post was stressing the notion that, whatever the truth, Afghans are going to believe what they want: “The truth of what happened in Farah may be less important than what the Afghan people believe took place in the remote western region. [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates said that a cornerstone of the Taliban campaign is to blame civilian deaths on U.S. troops.”
CBS’s Couric (5/6/09) likewise posited to U.S. Army General David McKiernan: “Whatever the outcome, rumors alone that many civilians were killed by U.S. airstrikes–that is very problematic, particularly at this moment in time.” Couric closed her report by paraphrasing McKiernan’s assessment: “The general added, because it takes time to uncover the truth, the U.S. is at a distinct disadvantage in the propaganda war with the Taliban, who often blame the United States for any civilian deaths.”
It is difficult to see the corporate media’s credulous, cursory coverage of these killings as evidence of a U.S. public relations “disadvantage.”
If the US Does It, It’s Not Torture May 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Media, Torture.
Tags: andrew sullivan, bush crimes, chinese torture, cia interrogation, congress, culture of impunity, democrats, glenn greenwald, Iraq, jay rockerfeller, journalis standards, journalism, Nancy Pelosi, nation of laws, new york times, roger hollander, rule of law, torture, torture techniques, waterboarding
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Published on Friday, May 8, 2009 by Salon.com
The NYT’s Definition of Blinding American Exceptionalism
There’s been a major editorial breach at The New York Times today, in this obituary of an American fighter pilot who was captured by the Chinese:
Harold E. Fischer Jr., an American Flier Tortured in a Chinese Prison, Dies at 83. . . .
From April 1953 through May 1955, Colonel Fischer – then an Air Force captain – was held at a prison outside Mukden, Manchuria. For most of that time, he was kept in a dark, damp cell with no bed and no opening except a slot in the door through which a bowl of food could be pushed. Much of the time he was handcuffed. Hour after hour, a high-frequency whistle pierced the air.
After a short mock trial in Beijing on May 24, 1955, Captain Fischer and the other pilots – Lt. Col. Edwin L. Heller, First Lt. Lyle W. Cameron and First Lt. Roland W. Parks – were found guilty of violating Chinese territory by flying across the border while on missions over North Korea. Under duress, Captain Fischer had falsely confessed to participating in germ warfare.
So that’s torture now? To use the prevailing American mindset: a room that doesn’t meet the standards of a Hilton and some whistling in the background is torture? My neighbor whistles all the time; does that mean he’s torturing me? It’s not as though Fischer had his eyes poked out by hot irons or was placed in a coffin-like box with bugs or was handcuffed to the ceiling.
Also, using the editorial standards of America’s journalistic institutions — as explained recently by the NYT Public Editor — shouldn’t this be called ”torture” rather than torture — or “harsh tactics some critics decry as torture”? Why are the much less brutal methods used by the Chinese on Fischer called torture by the NYT, whereas much harsher methods used by Americans do not merit that term? Here we find what is clearly the single most predominant fact shaping our political and media discourse: everything is different, and better, when we do it. In fact, it is that exact mentality that was and continues to be the primary justification for our torture regime and so much else that we do.
Along those same lines, I learned from reading The New York Times this week (via The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson) that Iraq is suffering a very serious problem. Tragically, that country is struggling with what the Times calls a “culture of impunity.” What this means is that politically connected Iraqis who clearly broke the law are nonetheless not being prosecuted because of their political influence! Even worse, protests the NYT, there have been “cases dismissed in the past few years as a result of a government amnesty and a law dating to 1971 that allows ministers to grant immunity to subordinates accused of corruption.” And the best part? This: ”The United States is pressing the Iraqi government to repeal that law.”
Thankfully, we’re teaching the Iraqis what it means to be a “nation of laws.” We Americans know how terrible it is to have a system where the politically powerful are permitted to break the law and not be held accountable. A country which does things like that can fall into such a state of moral depravity that they would actually allow people to do things like this and get away with it. Who could imagine living in a place like that?
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One related point: I’m truly amazed to watch the eruption of “controversy” today over the fact that Nancy Pelosi was briefed in 2002 on various aspects of the CIA’s interrogation program, as though (a) this is some sort of new revelation and (b) it has any bearing on whether there should be investigations and prosecutions into Bush crimes. As many of us have long pointed out, the extent to which Democratic leaders in Congress were complicit in Bush lawbreaking — including torture — is a major issue that needs resolution, and is almost certainly a key reason why there have been no investigations thus far. There are real disputes still about what these Democrats were and were not told — how complete the briefings were, the extent to which they obfuscated rather than illuminated what the CIA was doing — though they were obviously told enough to have warranted further action on their part, to say the least.
But what’s the point of all of this? Secretly telling Nancy Pelosi that you’re committing crimes doesn’t mean that you have the right to do so. And the profound failures of the other institutions that are supposed to check executive lawbreaking during the Bush era — principally Congress and the “opposition party” — is a vital issue that demands serious examination. This dispute over what Pelosi (and Jay Rockefeller and others) knew highlights, rather than negates, the need for a meaningful investigation into what took place.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has related thoughts about this obituary.
Media Behavior and the Torture ‘Debate’ April 24, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Media, Torture.
Tags: 9/11, abc news, Abu Ghraib, adam serwer, anthony taguba, bagram, Barack Obama, barry mccafrey, barton gellman, beltway, charles kaiser, chris matthews, cliff may, dana priest, david gregory, david ignatius, democratic party, doj, eric holder, firedoglake, geneva conventions, glenn greenwald, greg sargent, Guantanamo, International law, jane mayer, journalism, justice department, Karl Rove, mainstream media, marcy wheeler, Media, media superstars, new york times, office of legal counsel, olc, peggy nonan, political journalism, republicans, robert baer, roger cohen, roger hollander, rule of law, sheperd smith, special prosecutor, ta-nehisi coates, torture, torture memos, torture prosecutions, torture techniques, wall street journal, War Crimes, washington post, waterboarding, wsj
We could use more like I.F. (Izzy) Stone now; thank the goddess for Glenn Greenwald et. al.
Published on Friday, April 24, 2009 by Salon.com
Three Key Rules of Media Behavior Shape Their Discussions
of “the ‘Torture’ Debate”
It is now clear that the Obama White House didn’t think before it tried to appease the hard left of the Democratic Party.
When Rove speaks, the political class pays attention — usually with good reason.
There does seem to be a little bit of a reaction to how this was received on the left. . . frankly this feels like a political food fight now. . .. The hard left, the hard right, fighting over this in the blogosphere.
This whole torture debate is likely to tell us a lot about the kind of president Barack Obama intends to be. Will he buckle to the left, the netroots, and pursue an investigation into torture having said he didn’t want to? Or will he go post-partisan and leave the past to the historians?
What [Obama officials] got on their hands is a highly politicized and very partisan issue about the treatment of 9/11 prisoners. . . . At a time when the administration and the President will already be under scrutiny for being tough enough, is this a fight they really want to have? I would also point you to, if you haven’t see this already, the Wall St. Journal Editorial Page today, which I think raises some really tough points about not only what signal you’re sending to the rest of the world, but also to potential Terrorists out there, about just what it is that U.S. interrogators would do and not do, but also the point that’s raised there is: did the Bush administration go out of its way to make sure they were adhering to the law and not crossing over that bridge when it came to getting into torture?
(By the way: can someone tell me what a “9/11 prisoner” is?; and is there anything less surprising than the fact that Gregory looks to The Wall St. Journal Editorial Page for guidance on such questions?)
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For years, media stars ignored the fact that our Government was chronically breaking the law and systematically torturing detainees (look at this extremely detailed exposé by The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest and Barton Gellman from December, 2002 to get a sense for how much we’ve known about all of this and for how long we’ve known it). Now that the sheer criminality of this conduct, really for the first time, has exploded into mainstream political debates as a result of the OLC memos, media stars are forced to address it. Exactly as one would expect, they are closing ranks, demanding (as always) that their big powerful political-official-friends and their elite institutions not be subject to the dirty instruments that are meant only for the masses — things like the rule of law, investigations, prosecutions, and accountability when they abuse their power.
The rules for how media stars behave are vividly evident as they finally take part in what they are calling The ‘Torture’ Debate. Here are three key rules for Beltway media behavior that, as always, are shaping what they say and do:
(1) Any policy that Beltway elites dislike is demonized as coming from “the Left” or — in this case (following Karl Rove) – the “hard Left.” Media stars recite that claim regardless of how widely accepted the belief is in American public opinion and regardless of whether there is anything “leftist” about the view in question. For years, withdrawing from Iraq was demonized as the view of the “left” even though large majorities of Americans favored it.
Identically, roughly 40% of Americans favor criminal prosecutions for Bush officials — even before release of the OLC memos — and large majorities favor investigations generally. The premise of those who advocate prosecutions is the definitively non-ideological view that political elites should be treated exactly like ordinary Americans when they break the law and commit serious crimes. Individuals such as Gen. Antonio Taguba, Gen. Barry McCaffrey and former CIA officer Robert Baer advocate investigations and/or prosecutions of Bush officials. But no matter: the Beltway opposes the idea, and it is therefore dismissed by media stars as coming from the “Hard Left.”
(2) Nobody is more opposed to transparency and disclosure of government secrets than establishment “journalists.” Richard Cohen wrote of the Lewis Libby prosecution: “it is often best to keep the lights off.” ABC News’ Peggy Noonan said this week of torture investigations: ”Some things in life need to be mysterious. Sometimes you need to just keep walking.” The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius, condemning Obama for releasing the OLC memos, warned: ”the country is fighting a war, and it needs to take care that the sunlight of exposure doesn’t blind its shadow warriors.” And the favorite mantra of media stars and Beltway mavens everywhere — Look Forward, Not Backwards — is nothing but a plea that extreme government crimes remain concealed and unexamined.
This remains the single most notable and revealing fact of American political life: that (with some very important exceptions) those most devoted to maintaining and advocating government secrecy is our journalist class, of all people. It would be as if the leading proponents of cigarette smoking were physicians, or those most vocally touting the virtues of illiteracy were school teachers. Nothing proves the true function of these media stars as government spokespeople more than their eagerness to shield government actions from examination and demand that government criminality not be punished.
(3) The single most sacred Beltway belief is that elites are exempt from the rule of law. Amidst all the talk about how prosecutions would destroy post-partisan harmony and whether torture “works,” it is virtually impossible to find any media star discussions about the fact that torture is illegal and that those who order, authorize or engage in torture are committing felonies. That is because — other than for fun sex scandals and other Blagojevich-like sensationalistic acts — the overriding belief of the political class is that elites (such as themselves) have the right to break the law and not be held accountable.
Amazingly, when it comes to crimes by ordinary Americans, being ”tough on crime” is a virtually nonnegotiable prerequisite to being Serious, but when it comes to political officials who commit crimes in the exercise of their power, absolute leniency is the mandated belief upon pain of being dismissed as “shrill” and extremist. Can anyone find an establishment media pundit anywhere — just one — who is advocating that Bush officials who broke the law be held accountable under our laws? That view seems actively excluded from establishment media discussions.
The OLC memos that were released last week reflect a deeply corrupted, criminal and morally depraved political class (see this video clip for a strangely affecting demonstration of that fact – linked fixed), but our media stars are a vital reason why that has happened. It cannot be overstated the extent to which they are nothing but appendages of, servants to, political power (as one Twitter commentator said today about this painfully vapid video from the painfully vapid David Gregory: when media stars say “my reporting,” what they usually mean is: “this is what I was told to repeat”). These three media rules repeatedly shape how they talk about government actions, and these rules are particularly pronounced as the establishment media now is finally forced to discuss what to do about the fact that our highest political leaders repeatedly broke our most serious laws.
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As a testament to the positive effect media criticisms can have, Columbia Journalism Review‘s Charles Kaiser has been tenaciously criticizing The New York Times for failing to challenge — and instead mindlessly adopting — the claim of Bush officials that torture ”worked” by producing valuable intelligence. Yesterday, a NYT Editor told Kaiser that he agreed that more attention needed to be paid to this issue, and today, the NYT published a very potent Op-Ed from an FBI interrogator at Guantanamo who aggressively disputes the claim that torture “worked.”
Also: I’ll be on Warren Onley’s To the Point program today at 2:10 p.m. EST (along with The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer and National Review‘s Cliff May) to debate the question of investigations and prosecutions. Local listings and live audio feed can be found here (the segment will be posted to their website later today).
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UPDATE: As the recent debate-changing discovery of Marcy Wheeler demonstrated, one extremely important way to improve media coverage of these issues is to have independent journalists able to work on them. Marcy has long been one of the hardest-working and most important writers on these matters, yet has been doing it all for free, as a side hobby before and after her full-time job. FireDogLake is now attempting to raise funds to hire Marcy to enable her to work on her investigative journalism full-time. For those able to do so, contributing to that fund is something I’d highly recommend. That can be done here.
UPDATE II: The link to the video I referenced above was wrong; the correct link is here. In addition to Generals Taguba and McCaffrey, the Hard Left has another new member: Sheperd Smith (here and here). And Greg Sargent makes a key point: whether torture “worked” is, among other things, entirely irrelevant. As I pointed out more times than I can count during discussions of the warrantless eavesdropping debates, we don’t have a country where political leaders are free to commit crimes and then, afterwards, claim that their doing so produced good outcomes.
UPDATE III: The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates posts video of the Peggy Noonan comments and writes:
The job of journalists is to challenge the government and to challenge their readers and viewers. What sort of journalist tells his readers that some things must be mysterious? What sort of writer tells her readers, and viewers, essentially, to not ask too many questions? We have a fine era, when otherwise respected, intelligent, and well-read people step on a national stage and endorse national ignorance.
There’s nothing unusual about Noonan’s mentality; it’s the dominant mindset of our political and media class. The American Prospect‘s Adam Serwer notes a column from The New York Times‘ Roger Cohen today arguing against prosecutions (of course) and observes:
Cohen’s argument simply reflects the consensus among certain journalistic and political elites that the powerful simply shouldn’t be held accountable when they make mistakes, because, after all, we all make mistakes. This compassionate attitude naturally doesn’t extend beyond this small group. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, fully 1 percent of the population. I’m sure there are millions of people currently incarcerated who would like it if Cohen’s policy of absolution for crimes was extended to them.
That elite-protecting consensus is the central affliction of America’s political culture. It explains not only how we continuously shield our elites from the consequences of their crimes, but also explains the reason such crimes keep happening. If you constantly announce to a small group of people that they will be able to break the law with impunity, you are rendering inevitable future rampant criminality. That’s just obvious.