What Media Coverage Omits about US Hikers Released by Iran September 26, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iran, Media.
Tags: american hikers, bilal hussein, cia prisons, Cindy Sheehan, corportate media, desmond tutu, detainee abuse, glenn greenwald, Guantanamo, human rights, ibrahim jassen, Iran, iran hikers, iran hostages, joshua fattal, Media, Mohammad Ali, Noam Chomsky, propaganda, roger hollander, roxana saberi, sami al-haj, sean penn, shane bauer, solitary confinement, torture
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Published on Monday, September 26, 2011 by Salon.com
by Glenn Greenwald
Two American hikers imprisoned for more than two years by Iran on extremely dubious espionage charges and in highly oppressive conditions, Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer, were released last week and spoke yesterday in Manhattan about their ordeal. Most establishment media accounts in the U.S. have predictably exploited the emotions of the drama as a means of bolstering the U.S.-is-Good/Iran-is-Evil narrative which they reflexively spout. But far more revealing is what these media accounts exclude, beginning with the important, insightful and brave remarks from the released prisoners themselves (their full press conference was broadcast this morning on Democracy Now).
Fattal began by recounting the horrible conditions of the prison in which they were held, including being kept virtually all day in a tiny cell alone and hearing other prisoners being beaten; he explained that, of everything that was done to them, “solitary confinement was the worst experience of all of our lives.” Bauer then noted that they were imprisoned due solely to what he called the “32 years of mutual hostility between America and Iran,” and said: “the irony is that [we] oppose U.S. policies towards Iran which perpetuate this hostility.” After complaining that the two court sessions they attended were “total shams” and that “we’d been held in almost total isolation – stripped of our rights and freedoms,” he explained:
In prison, every time we complained about our conditions, the guards would remind us of comparable conditions at Guantanamo Bay; they’d remind us of CIA prisons in other parts of the world; and conditions that Iranians and others experience in prisons in the U.S.
We do not believe that such human rights violation on the part of our government justify what has been done to us: not for a moment. However, we do believe that these actions on the part of the U.S. provide an excuse for other governments – including the government of Iran – to act in kind.
[Indeed, as harrowing and unjust as their imprisonment was, Bauer and Fattal on some level are fortunate not to have ended up in the grips of the American War on Terror detention system, where detainees remain for many more years without even the pretense of due process -- still -- to say nothing of the torture regime to which hundreds (at least) were subjected.]
Fattal then expressed “great thanks to world leaders and individuals” who worked for their release, including Hugo Chavez, the governments of Turkey and Brazil, Sean Penn, Noam Chomsky, Mohammad Ali, Cindy Sheehan, Desmond Tutu, as well as Muslims from around the world and “elements within the Iranian government,” as well as U.S. officials.
Unsurprisingly, one searches in vain for the inclusion of these facts and remarks in American media accounts of their release and subsequent press conference. Instead, typical is this ABC News story, which featured tearful and celebratory reactions from their family, detailed descriptions of their conditions and the pain and fear their family endured, and melodramatic narratives about how their “long, grueling imprisonment is over” after “781 days in Iran’s most notorious prison.” This ABC News article on their press conference features many sentences about Iran’s oppressiveness — “Hikers Return to the U.S.: ‘We Were Held Hostage’”; “we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten” — with hardly any mention of the criticisms Fattal and Bauer voiced regarding U.S. policy that provided the excuse for their mistreatment and similar treatment which the U.S. doles out both in War on Terror prisons around the world and even domestic prisons at home.
Their story deserves the attention it is getting, and Iran deserves the criticism. But the first duty of the American “watchdog media” should be highlighting the abuses of the U.S. Government, not those of other, already-hated regimes on the other side of the world. Instead, the abuses at home are routinely suppressed while those in the Hated Nations are endlessly touted. There have been thousands of people released after being held for years and years in U.S. detention despite having done nothing wrong. Many were tortured, and many were kept imprisoned despite U.S. government knowledge of their innocence. Have you ever seen anything close to this level of media attention being devoted to their plight, to hearing how America’s lawless detention of them for years — often on a strange island, thousands of miles away from everything they know — and its systematic denial of any legal redress, devastated their families and destroyed their lives?
This is a repeat of what happened with the obsessive American media frenzy surrounding the arrest and imprisonment by Iran of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, convicted in a sham proceeding of espionage, sentenced to eight years in prison, but then ordered released by an Iranian appeals court after four months. Saberi’s case became a true cause célèbre among American journalists, with large numbers of them flamboyantly denouncing Iran and demanding her release. But when their own government imprisoned numerous journalists for many years without any charges of any kind — Al Jazeera’s Sami al-Haj in Guantanamo, Associated Press’ Bilal Hussein for more than two years in Iraq, Reuters’ photographer Ibrahim Jassan even after an Iraqi court exonerated him, and literally dozens of other journalists without charge — it was very difficult to find any mention of their cases in American media outlets.
What we find here yet again is that government-serving American establish media outlets relish the opportunity to report negatively on enemies and other adversaries of the U.S. government (that is the same mindset that accounts for the predicable, trite condescension by the New York Times toward the Wall Street protests, the same way they constantly downplayed Iraq War protests). But to exactly the same extent that they love depicting America’s Enemies as Bad, they hate reporting facts that make the U.S. Government look the same.
That’s why Fattal and Bauer receive so much attention while victims of America’s ongoing lawless detention scheme are ignored. It’s why media stars bravely denounce the conditions of Iran’s “notorious prison” while ignoring America’s own inhumane prison regime on both foreign and U.S. soil. It’s why imprisonment via sham trials in Iran stir such outrage while due-process-free imprisonment (and assassinations) by the U.S. stir so little. And it’s why so many Americans know Roxana Saberi but so few know Sami al-Haj.
An actual watchdog press is, first and foremost, eager to expose the corruption and wrongdoing of their own government. By contrast, a propaganda establishment press is eager to suppress that, and there is no better way of doing so than by obsessing on the sins of nations on the other side of the world while ignoring the ones at home. If only establishment media outlets displayed a fraction of the bravery and integrity of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who had a good excuse to focus exclusively on Iran’s sins but — a mere few days after being released from a horrible, unjust ordeal — chose instead to present the full picture.
Read more at Salon.com
© 2011 Salon.com
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy”, examines the Bush legacy. His next book is titled “With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.”
15 Comments so far
Posted by Paul Revere
Sep 26 2011 – 12:25pm.
” A propaganda establishment press “. Glenn, that says it all!
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Posted by Progressive101
Sep 26 2011 – 12:27pm.
Another good article by Greenwald.
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Posted by Oikos
Sep 26 2011 – 12:30pm.
Couldn’t our hikers do more to broadcast their sentiments regarding the U.S. policies towards Iran and the U.S. practice of torture and imprisonment without process? There are Facebook and other Web venues.
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Posted by der
Sep 26 2011 – 1:02pm.
For the nth time, the New York Times’ public editor has investigated Ethan Bronner’s conficts of interest for justifying Israel’s crimes, large and small, and for the nth time has found him not guilty. Something tells me the Times’ owners are getting from Bronner exactly what they pay him to do.
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Posted by Curtis
Sep 26 2011 – 1:05pm.
Maybe a travel agency can set up a trip to recreate the hike these adventurers took in Iraq. Of course it would have to stay in Iraq, but with Google Earth that shouldn’t be too hard.
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Posted by Salusa Secundus
Sep 26 2011 – 1:19pm.
Excellent article by Glenn Greenwald
The economic royalist banksters who invest in endless wars for endless profits are We The People’s truest enemies.
As I see it, they have three main weapons at their disposal:
A) Infiltration and control of the government through the rigged/money based election process
B) Infiltration and control of the Pentagon and our defense system, achieved through the corruption of the political process (A), which ensures that gov’t reps and military budget overseers remain trapped in the highly lucrative game of military spending and investiture.
C) Infiltration and control of the public’s information, through full-spectrum dominance and consolidation of the media aparatus. This is perhaps the most insidious of the usurpations by the banksters, as it normalizes the criminality and deep corruption of the first two controls. Through command of the public mouthpiece, the People will *perpetually* be told the same lies, and will have no other means of checking the validity of such narratives, other than turning to ‘underground’ sources, which by definition the mainstream is loath to do.
“Whoever controls the image and information of the past determines what and how future generations will think; whoever controls the information and images of the present determines how those same people will view the past.
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Posted by marcos
Sep 26 2011 – 1:30pm.
I was imprisoned for three years in New York City federal detention centers and even given a trial. Not only are the worst abuses not in Iran, but they are not even in U.S. prisons where Muslims have been held without charges. The worst abuses have happened right in front of your eyes in U.S. prisons and the lack of media coverage is the biggest contributing reason.
How can you not know about my case? How can even the alternative media ignore my case?
I was imprisoned for sending an email to ABC television online email center on May 19 and May 20, 1999. Actually, I had sent the email 9 times, on May 21, 22, 23, 24, 25,26 and 27, as well as May 19 and 20. Each copy said you have 30 days to answer and then 29, 28, 27 days, etc. — a countdown. I was seeking publicity for my story about the rigging of the U.S. presidency and the stock markets and the fact that I knew a huge terrorist attack was coming to U.S. shores.
But, the federal prosecutor withheld the longer series of sent copies because it would surely have shown that publicity was the goal of the emails. I was held for one and a half years before my trial and was put in the worst solitary confinement cell in federal prison in Manhattan for my trial, where I represented myself.
I claimed at trial, and still claim, that I had prior knowledge of 9/11 and that that information had been received by the government. I wanted to sit down with ABC television and three other corporations in order to discuss what I claimed was damage they had caused me and that terrorism was coming more powerfully than ever to New York. The email was a literary version of the current Wall Street occupation.
The U.S. government knew about 9/11 from me more than two years before it was carried out. I was rendered in Mexico, brought to New Jersey by the FBI, transferred and imprisoned in New York City for three years and had a trial about half way through about an email that was sent to ABC, the New York Times, Newsweek and Time Magazine.
But, not one word about my imprisonment, my email, my claims of prior knowledge of 9/11 or my trial has appeared in any media.
I have 11 years of university education, two degrees, have taught in high schools and universities, including recently in Beijing. I have worked for David Geffen, the William Morris Agency, Anaconda Corporation, covered three national political conventions (two in Madison Square Garden).
It’s more than something being wrong with the USA, Iran and Qaddafi, and other places of extreme injustice.
All you nice, good-intentioned people are living in darkness, absolute darkness about the real conditions of a virtually totalitarian American system
Details of my story and claims are in my http://www.lulu.com/product/file-download/revolution-or-extinction/16532855
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Posted by Galenwainwright…
Sep 26 2011 – 1:31pm.
Dmitri Orlov, a Russian Ex-pat, once observed that the only difference between the USSR and the US was that in America people believed the propaganda.
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Posted by Kane Jeeves
Sep 26 2011 – 1:41pm.
Studied Russian years ago. The instructor, an ex-pat, told us day one about the main newspaper in USSR and the popular saying “Pravda nyet Pravda”. (Pravda/Truth is not true)
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Posted by sheepherder
Sep 26 2011 – 2:45pm.
I recall an old joke about Pravda (Truth) and Izvestia (News). It went: there is no truth in the new and no news in the truth.
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Posted by Aaronica
Sep 26 2011 – 3:07pm.
I thought the joke went that you could find some news in Pravda, and some truth in Izvestia.
Either way, the Ruskies knew they were reading stories that couldn’t be trusted. The western peoples don’t. (sorry OP, the rest of us westerners seem to be believing the propaganda now too.)
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Posted by HailCODEPINK
Sep 26 2011 – 1:45pm.
Glenn Greenwald, Chris Hedges and David Swanson–three treasures of humanity, shining a bright light on our present plight. We, however, must be our own saviors. Can we organize a coherent educational and political action based on their insights to resist our own destruction, and that of our planet?
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Posted by Kane Jeeves
Sep 26 2011 – 1:46pm.
Can someone point to a link that describes why the hikers were there in the first place? I find it almost impossible to believe they were “just hiking”. If that were the case, then the US has a real problem on it’s hands…what to do with all the “just hikers” around the Mexican border.
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Posted by sheepherder
Sep 26 2011 – 2:47pm.
I wonder about the same thing. Why were they in Iraq in the first place, and why were they hiking anywhere close to a national border, especially the one with Iran?
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Posted by Brian Brademeyer
Sep 26 2011 – 1:49pm.
These “hikers” look a lot healthier than any Gitmo unfortunates that I have seen pictures of. They can still walk upright, and make complex compound sentences.
Orwell, 9/11, Emmanuel Goldstein and WikiLeaks September 10, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Democracy, War.
Tags: 1984, democracy, emmanuel goldstein, glenn greenwald, national security, orwell, permanent war, propaganda, roger hollander, war, wikileaks
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Roger’s note: the excerpt from Orwell’s 1984 toward the end of this article is, to say the least, uncanny in its prophetic foresight into today’s world. Read that if you read nothing else in this post.
Saturday, Sep 10, 2011 06:11 ET, www.salon.com
A strikingly good piece of investigative journalism from Associated Press finds that accusations about the damage done by WikiLeaks’ latest release are — yet again – wildly overstated and without any factual basis. These most recent warnings have centered on WikiLeaks’ exposure of diplomatic sources whom the released cables indicated should be “strictly protected.” While unable to examine all of the names in the cables, AP focused on the ones “the State Department seemed to categorize as most risky.“ It found that many of them are “comfortable with their names in the open and no one fearing death.”
In particular, many of these super-secret sources were “already dead, their names cited as sensitive in the context of long-resolved conflicts or situations” while “some have publicly written or testified at hearings about the supposedly confidential information they provided the U.S. government.” Like the Pentagon before them, even the State Department — which has “been scouring the documents since last year to find examples where sources are exposed and inform them that they may be ‘outed’” — is unable to provide any substantiation for its shrill, public denunciations of WikiLeaks and its “dire” warnings about the “grave danger” caused by publication of these cables:
The total damage appears limited and the State Department has steadfastly refused to describe any situation in which they’ve felt a source’s life was in danger. They say a handful of people had to be relocated away from danger but won’t provide any details on those few cases.
None of this is to say that all criticisms of WikiLeaks are unwarranted; I criticized the accidental release of sources’ names as part of the Afghan War documents and assigned them some blame for failure to secure the cables. Nor is it to say that it’s implausible that, at some point, someone may be harmed by release of the unredated cables. The point here is that, yet again, the fear-mongering frenzy issued by the U.S. Government against one of its Enemies Du Jour was blindly ingested and then disseminated by the standard cadre of government-loyal “journalists” and the authority-revering pundits who listen to them. No matter how many times that happens, the lesson is never learned, because there is no desire to learn it.
For three reasons, AP’s findings are anything but surprising. First, that the U.S. Government declares something Very Secret hardly means it is; this is a secrecy-obsessed government that reflexively declares even the most banal matters to be “sensitive” and off-limits to the public, as proven by the release of hundreds of thousands of “secret” documents that reveal nothing. Second, there is an established history of extremely exaggerated government and media claims about the harm done by WikiLeaks releases; that’s why, when examining the events last week that prompted the release of the unredacted cables, I wrote: “Serious caution is warranted in making claims about the damage caused by publication of these cables.”
Third, and most important for present purposes, this is what the U.S. government and its media-servants do; it’s their modus operandi. Whomever the government wants to demonize at any given moment is subjected to this same process. On a moment’s notice, the full propaganda system is activated against the New Enemy, indiscriminate accusations are unleashed, personal foibles are exposed, collective hatred among all Decent People is mandated, and it then instantly becomes heretical to question the caricature of evil that has been manufactured.
That’s how dictators and other assorted miscreants with whom the U.S. was tightly allied for years or even decades are overnight converted into The Root of All Evil, The Supreme Villain who Must be Vanquished (Saddam, Osama bin Laden, Gadaffi, Mubarak). Americans who were perfectly content to have their government in bed with these individuals suddenly stand up and demand, on cue, that no expense be spared to eradicate them. Often, the demonization campaign contains some truth — the nation’s long-time-friends-converted-overnight-into-Enemies really have committed atrocious acts or, as a new innovation of Nixonian tactics aimed at Daniel Ellsberg, even harbored some creepy porn (!) — but the ritual of collective hatred renders any facts a mere accident. Once everyone’s contempt is successfully directed toward the Chosen Enemy, it matters little what they actually did or did not do: such a profound menace are they to all that is Good that exaggerations or even lies about their bad acts are ennobled, in service of a Good Cause; conversely, to question the demonization or object to what is done to them is, by definition, to side with Evil.
Directing all this passionate hatred toward the state’s identified Enemy and their Evil Acts has an added benefit: the resulting mass contempt, by design, distracts all attention away from of the evil committed by those stirring that passion. Thus do we all stomp our feet in righteous fury over the potential, speculative harm caused by WikiLeaks while steadfastly ignoring the actual, massive death and destruction on the part of our own leaders which WikiLeaks reveals (just as dramatic tales and anniversary rituals about bin Laden’s act a full decade ago still cause us to overlook and acquiesce to the massive amount of violence, aggression and bloodshed our own leaders continue to bring to the world). Just yell Saddam’s rape rooms or display the iconic photograph of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or claim that WikiLeaks has endangered hundreds of innocents and made “diplomacy” impossible or suddenly feign outrage over Mubarak’s internal repression and everything — the past, our own actions, facts — all fade away in a cloud of righteous collective hatred, directed outward, away from ourselves and our government.
This is nothing more than a slightly less raucous rendition of Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein/Two-Minute-Hate ritual. In Orwell’s 1984, Goldstein is the shadowy, possibly-fictitious-but-possibly-real former Party official whose betrayals of the State, ongoing treason, and array of other incomprehensibly evil acts make him, in the lore of State propaganda, the Prime Villain, the Root of all Evil, whom Good Citizens blame for all societal evils and on whom they exclusively focus their rage. His image is regularly paraded before the citizenry during a Two Minute Hate Session, accompanied by an authoritative narration of his evil, and mass, inebriating rage results (see the video version here). The ultimate benefit of this ritual is it enables the citizenry to ignore their own plight and the violence and oppression of their own government (political parties use a similar process — endless focus on marginal, hated figures in the other party — to keep fear levels high and party loyalty strong). Thus can the debate over whether Julian Assange should be executed or merely imprisoned for life resume among all good people.
Speaking of Emmanuel Goldstein, he was the putative “author” of the Party manual published at length in 1984 that describes the Party’s means of control and manipulation, entitled “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.” In the chapter entitled “War Is Peace,” one finds what is easily the best essay for the 10-year-anniversary religious observance of 9/11 upon which we are about to embark:
In one combination or another, these three super-states are permanently at war, and have been so for the past twenty-five years. War, however, is no longer the desperate, annihilating struggle that it was in the early decades of the twentieth century. . . .
This is not to say that either the conduct of war, or the prevailing attitude towards it, has become less bloodthirsty or more chivalrous. On the contrary, war hysteria is continuous and universal in all countries, and such acts as raping, looting, the slaughter of children, the reduction of whole populations to slavery, and reprisals against prisoners which extend even to boiling and burying alive, are looked upon as normal, and, when they are committed by one’s own side and not by the enemy, meritorious.
But in a physical sense war involves very small numbers of people, mostly highly-trained specialists, and causes comparatively few casualties. The fighting, when there is any, takes place on the vague frontiers whose whereabouts the average man can only guess at, or round the Floating Fortresses which guard strategic spots on the sea lanes. . . .
To understand the nature of the present war — for in spite of the regrouping which occurs every few years, it is always the same war — one must realize in the first place that it is impossible for it to be decisive. . . . The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.
What is concerned here is not the morale of masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.
The splitting of the intelligence which the Party requires of its members, and which is more easily achieved in an atmosphere of war, is now almost universal, but the higher up the ranks one goes, the more marked it becomes. It is precisely in the Inner Party that war hysteria and hatred of the enemy are strongest. In his capacity as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of doublethink. Meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real, and that it is bound to end victoriously, with Oceania the undisputed master of the entire world. . . .
War prisoners apart, the average citizen of Oceania never sets eyes on a citizen of either Eurasia or Eastasia, and he is forbidden the knowledge of foreign languages. If he were allowed contact with foreigners he would discover that they are creatures similar to himself and that most of what he has been told about them is lies. The sealed world in which he lives would be broken, and the fear, hatred, and self-righteousness on which his morale depends might evaporate. . .
The war, therefore, if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are set at such an angle that they are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. . . .
In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.
There are certainly people with genuine power who understand exactly how this process works and are conscious of the propaganda it entails, and there are many ordinary citizens, paying only casual attention to political matters, who blindly ingest it. But it is the high-ranking Inner Party members — the D.C. cadre of think tank “scholars,” government and academic functionaries, and journalists and pundits who fancy themselves sophisticated political junkies and insiders — who are the True Believers. They cling to institutions of political power and officialdom, plant their careers, self-esteem, self-importance and social circles in its belly, and are thus the most incentivized to believe in its Rightness and Goodness and the least able to critically assess it. Intoxicated with supreme loyalty to the organs of political power and societal institutions which support it, they become its most ardent, faithful evangelizers. The more they gather together in their insular royal court realm, the more they reinforce each other’s trite convictions.
These pseudo-sophisticated, pseudo-intellectual nationalists may “know that this or that item of war news is untruthful” or may even know that the entire “war is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones.” But no matter: they are Washington’s most loyal denizens and thus “never waver for an instant in their mystical belief that the war is real” or in the propaganda that sustains it. At the heart of this propaganda — and of their worldview — is the unquestioning conviction about the unmitigated evil of the State’s designated Enemies, and of their own Good. Observe how WikiLekas is now discussed, and especially observe the waves of self-praising moralizing over this next several days, to see this dynamic in all its glory.
Flying the Flag; Faking the News September 3, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Britain, Iraq and Afghanistan, Media, War.
Tags: britain, Edward Bernays, england economy, Iraq, iraq casualties, Iraq war, john pilger, Labour Party, Media, miliband, new labour, propaganda, roger hollander
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Friday 03 September 2010
(Photo: DVIDSHUB / Flickr)
Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, is said to have invented modern propaganda. During the First World War, he was one of a group of influential liberals who mounted a secret government campaign to persuade reluctant Americans to send an army to the bloodbath in Europe. In his book, “Propaganda,” published in 1928, Bernays wrote that the “intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses was an important element in democratic society” and that the manipulators “constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country.” Instead of propaganda, he coined the euphemism “public relations.”
The American tobacco industry hired Bernays to convince women they should smoke in public. By associating smoking with women’s liberation, he made cigarettes “torches of freedom.” In 1954, he conjured a communist menace in Guatemala as an excuse for overthrowing the democratically-elected government, whose social reforms were threatening the United Fruit company’s monopoly of the banana trade. He called it a “liberation.”
Bernays was no rabid right winger. He was an elitist liberal who believed that “engineering public consent” was for the greater good. This was achieved by the creation of “false realities,” which then became “news events.” Here are examples of how it is done these days:
False Reality: The last US combat troops have left Iraq “as promised, on schedule,” according to President Barack Obama. TV screens have filled with cinematic images of the “last US soldiers” silhouetted against the dawn light, crossing the border into Kuwait.
Fact: They are still there. At least 50,000 troops will continue to operate from 94 bases. American air assaults are unchanged, as are special forces’ assassinations. The number of “military contractors” is currently 100,000 and rising. Most Iraqi oil is now under direct foreign control.
False Reality: BBC presenters and reporters have described the departing US troops as a “sort of victorious army” that has achieved “a remarkable change in [Iraq's] fortunes.” Their commander, Gen. David Petraeus, is a “celebrity,” “charming,” “savvy” and “remarkable.”
Fact: There is no victory of any sort. There is a catastrophic disaster; and attempts to present it as otherwise are a model of Bernays’ campaign to “rebrand” the slaughter of the first world war as “necessary” and “noble.” In 1980, Ronald Reagan, running for president, rebranded the invasion of Vietnam, in which up to three million people died, as a “noble cause,” a theme taken up enthusiastically by Hollywood. Today’s Iraq war movies have a similar purging theme: the invader as both idealist and victim.
False Reality: It is not known how many Iraqis have died. They are “countless” or maybe “in the tens of thousands.”
Fact: As a direct consequence of the Anglo-American-led invasion, a million Iraqis have died. This figure from Opinion Research Business is based on peer-reviewed research led by Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, whose methods were secretly affirmed as “best practice” and “robust” by the Blair government’s chief scientific adviser, as revealed in a Freedom of Information search. This figure is rarely reported or presented to “charming” and “savvy” American generals. Neither is the dispossession of four million Iraqis, the malnourishment of most Iraqi children, the epidemic of mental illness and the poisoning of the environment.
False Reality: The British economy has a deficit of billions, which must be reduced with cuts in public services and regressive taxation, in a spirit of “we’re all in this together.”
Fact: We are not in this together. What is remarkable about this public relations triumph is that, only 18 months ago, the diametric opposite filled TV screens and front pages. Then, in a state of shock, truth was unavoidable, if briefly. The Wall Street and city of London financiers’ trough was on full view for the first time, along with the venality of once celebrated snouts. Billions in public money went to inept and crooked organizations known as banks, which were spared debt liability by their Labour government sponsors.
Within a year, record profits and personal bonuses were posted, and state and media propaganda had recovered its equilibrium. Suddenly, the “black hole” was no longer the responsibility of the banks, whose debt is to be paid by those not in any way responsible: the public. The received media wisdom of this “necessity” is now a chorus, from the BBC to the Sun. A masterstroke, Bernays would surely say.
False Reality: The former government minister Ed Miliband offers a “genuine alternative” as leader of the British Labour Party.
Fact: Miliband, like his brother David, the former foreign secretary, and almost all those standing for the Labour leadership, is immersed in the effluent of New Labour. As a New Labour member of Parliament and minister, he did not refuse to serve under Blair or speak out against Labour’s persistent warmongering. He now calls the invasion of Iraq a “profound mistake.” Calling it a mistake insults the memory and the dead. It was a crime, of which the evidence is voluminous. He has nothing new to say about the other colonial wars, none of them mistakes. Neither has he demanded basic social justice: that those who caused the recession clear up the mess and that Britain’s fabulously rich corporate minority be seriously taxed, starting with Rupert Murdoch.
Of course, the good news is that false realities often fail when the public trusts its own critical intelligence, not the media. Two classified documents recently released by WikiLeaks express the CIA’s concern that the populations of European countries, which oppose their governments’ war policies, are not succumbing to the usual propaganda spun through the media. For the rulers of the world, this is a conundrum, because their unaccountable power rests on the false reality that no popular resistance works. And it does.
John Pilger, Australian-born, London-based journalist, film-maker and author. For his foreign and war reporting, ranging from Vietnam and Cambodia to the Middle East, he has twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism. For his documentary films, he won a British Academy Award and an American Emmy. In 2009, he was awarded Australia’s human rights prize, the Sydney Peace Prize. His latest film is “The War on Democracy.”
Why the Dark Secrets of the First Gulf War Are Still Haunting Us February 27, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: cbd documentary, censorship, Dick Cheney, first gulf war, george h.w. bush, gulf war, gulf war atrocities, gulf war illness, hill & knowlton, Iraq, Iraq war, iraqi soldiers, kuwait, kuwait city hospital, kuwait invasion, Nayirah, nora eisenberg, Pentagon, pentagon censors, propaganda, roger hollander, saddam hussein, to sel a war, war
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With rare exceptions, American politicians seem incapable of opposing an American war without befriending another in a different place or time.
Barack Obama, an early and ardent enemy of the Iraq War, quickly declared his affinity for a war in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan. And like so many Democratic leaders, he has commended Bush 41′s Gulf War over Bush 43′s, for its justifiable cause, clear goals, quick execution and admirable leadership.
It’s difficult to determine the proportion of expedience to ignorance that allows politicians and pundits to advance the theory of the good and trouble-free Gulf War. What’s clear, though, is that for close to 20 years, the 42-day war, in which we dropped more bombs than were dropped in all wars combined in the history of the world, maintains a special place in American hearts.
But as John R. MacArthur amply demonstrates in The Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, the real 1991 war was kept from the American public. This week, as we commemorate the 18th anniversary of the Gulf War’s end, and opportunities for new hostilities beckon, Americans, and our leaders, would do well to take a hard look at the war that we continue to love only because we never got to see it.
Despite our inability to detect it at the time, U.S. prosecution of the 1991 war with Iraq relied on all the now-familiar and discredited strategies used to promote the present war — with equally disastrous and far-reaching results.
When Saddam Hussein summoned April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, to his office on July 25, 1990, it was to determine what the U.S. response would be should he invade Kuwait with the 30,000 troops he had amassed on its border. According to the Iraqi transcript published in the New York Times two months later, he told the seasoned diplomat that Iraq had defended the region against the Iranian fundamentalist regime, and that the Kuwaitis were paying them back by encroaching on their border, siphoning their oil, increasing oil production and driving down prices. His people were suffering, and his “patience was running out.”
Glaspie commiserated: “I admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. I know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. … I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late ’60s. The instruction we had during this period was that … the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.”
Glaspie later claimed that Iraq transcripts contained “distortions,” which may be so. But her own recently declassified cable to Washington closely resembles the Iraqi transcripts: She wrote that she asked Saddam, “in the spirit of friendship, not confrontation” about his intentions with Kuwait. She reports telling him that “she had served in Kuwait 20 years before; then as now we took no position on these Arab affairs.” She wrote that “Saddam’s emphasis that he wants peaceful settlement is surely sincere … but the terms might be difficult to achieve.”
Glaspie was not the only official to deliver this laissez-faire message. The next day, at a Washington press conference, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutweiler was asked by a journalist if the U.S. had sent any diplomatic protest to Iraq for putting 30,000 troops on the border with Kuwait. “I’m entirely unaware of any such protest,” Tutweiler replied.
Five days later, on July 31, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs John Kelly testified to Congress that the “United States has no commitment to defend Kuwait, and the U.S. has no intention of defending Kuwait if it is attacked by Iraq.”
Two days later, when Saddam entered Kuwait, he had no reason to believe that the U.S. would come to Kuwait’s defense with a half-million troops. Or that when he tried to negotiate a retreat though Arab leaders, the U.S. would refuse to talk. In 1990 as in 2002, a Bush president had his mind set on war.
If the White House and Pentagon were fixed on a war with Iraq, during the summer and early fall of 1990, the American public and Congress were not. To change that, the week after Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government, disguising itself as “Citizens for a Free Kuwait,” hired the global PR firm of Hill & Knowlton to win Americans’ hearts and minds.
In charge of the Washington office of Hill & Knowlton was Craig Fuller, a close friend of George H.W. Bush and his chief of staff when he was vice president. For $11.8 million, Fuller and more than 100 H&K executives across the country oversaw the selling of the war.
They organized public rallies, provided pro-war speakers, lobbied politicians, developed and distributed information kits and news releases, including scores of video news releases shown by stations and networks as if they were bona fide journalism and not paid-for propaganda.
H&K’s research arm, the Wirthlin Group, conducted daily polls to identify the messages and language that would resonate most with Americans. In the 1982 Emmy award-winning Canadian Broadcasting Corp. documentary To Sell a War, a Wirthlin executive explained that their research had determined the most emotionally moving message to be “Saddam Hussein was a madman who had committed atrocities even against his own people and had tremendous power to do further damage, and he needed to be stopped.”
To fit the bill, H&K concocted stories, including one told by a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah, to another H&K concoction, the House Human Rights Caucus looking to pass as a congressional committee. According to the caucus, Nayirah’s full name would remain secret in order to deter the Iraqis from punishing her family in occupied Kuwait. The girl wept as she testified before the caucus, apparently still shaken by the atrocity she witnessed as a volunteer in a Kuwait City hospital.
According to her written testimony, she had seen “the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns and go into the room where … babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the babies on the cold floor to die.”
During the three months between Nayirah’s testimony and the start of the war, the story of babies tossed from their incubators stunned Americans. Bush told the story, and television anchors and talk-show hosts recycled it for days. It was read into the congressional record as fact and discussed at the U.N. General Assembly.
By the time it emerged that Nayirah was a Kuwaiti royal and the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington and that she had never volunteered in any hospital and that the incident and her testimony had been provided by H&K, it was too late. The war had already begun.
Another concoction was top-secret satellite images that the Pentagon claimed to have of 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks on the Kuwait-Saudi border, visible proof that Saddam would be advancing soon on Saudi Arabia. Yet the St. Petersburg Times acquired two commercial Russian satellite images of the same area, taken at the same time, that showed no Iraqi troops near the Saudi border, and the scientific experts whom the Times hired could identify nothing but sand at the supposed location of the advancing army.
But the St. Petersburg Times story evaporated, and the Pentagon’s story stuck. When Bush addressed a joint session of Congress on Sept. 11, 1990, he reported that developments in the Gulf were “as significant as they were tragic”: Iraqi troops and tanks had moved to the south “to threaten Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi reluctance to host foreign troops and bases that would desecrate their sacred sites, the holiest in all of Islam, gave way in the face of an imminent invasion, and the war had its staging area. American discomfort with a war to defend a country most had never heard of began to transform into dread that the Saudi oil they relied on would be swallowed up by a monster.
In the lead-up to war, U.S. media organizations, with rare exceptions, had begun to back away from investigative reporting and journalistic scrutiny. Once the war began, government censorship combined with this self-censorship produced a media blackout. The restrictions on the press were tighter than during any earlier American war. Journalists could not travel except in pools with military escorts, and even then most sites were off-limits.
Pentagon censors had to clear all war dispatches, photos and footage before they could be released. Department of Defense guidelines stated that stories would not be judged for “potential to express criticism or cause embarrassment,” but journalists weren’t taking any chances. When news anchors weren’t hosting retired generals and pundits, or screening eerie green images of the coordinates of the day’s targets, they were praising the military on a job well done.
Two months after the war ended, the editors of 15 news outlets protested to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney about the Pentagon’s control. But the damage had been done. The real war was never reported to the American public.
What We Missed and Need to Remember
Americans never saw images of even one of the 100,000 civilians killed in the aerial war, just coordinates of precision-guided strikes, the majority of which missed their marks.
We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.
There were no photos or stories of the start of the ground war on Feb. 24, 1991, after Iraq had agreed to a Russian-brokered withdrawal. We never saw the “bulldozer assault” of Feb. 24-26, when U.S. soldiers with plows mounted on tanks and bulldozers moved along 10 miles of trenches, burying alive some 1,000 Iraqi soldiers. Or the night of Feb. 26, when allied forces cordoned off a stretch of highway between Kuwait and Basra, Iraq, incinerating tens of thousands of retreating soldiers and civilians, in an incident come to be called the “Highway of Death.”
We saw no coverage of dead Kurds and Shiites who, at Bush’s instigation and expecting his support, rose up against Saddam. Nor in the months and years after, the news of the Iraqi epidemic of birth defects, cancers and systemic disease.
We heard little about the 20,000 troops occupying Saudi Arabia after the war, the growing regional resentment for the destruction and death, injuries and insults of invasion and occupation. We never heard of the Saudi Muslim radical Osama bin Laden, his outraged protests, for which he was banished, wandering the region, recruiting young followers to avenge the desecration of Islam’s sacred sites.
As for our own, there were no images of returning coffins filled with U.S. service members, nor, in the days and months after the war, coverage of the war’s aftermath: The 200,000 troops who returned profoundly ill from Gulf War illness; the trauma, addiction and/or brain damage that caused veterans to kill their wives, family, fellow citizens, and/or themselves; and, of course, on Sept. 11, 2001, the tragic event used by the George W. Bush administration to launch a second war against Iraq.
There was no mainstream media coverage of the roots, just of the proclamations of them versus us, hatemongers versus freedom lovers, barbaric cowards versus civilized heroes.
We could read about bin Laden’s jihad, but little appeared of the fatwa he and his counterparts throughout the Middle-East issued, except the often-quoted statement that it was the duty of every Muslim “to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military,” leaving out the second part of the sentence — “in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.”
Barack Obama’s early opposition to George 43′s Gulf War was a sign of the integrity, knowledge, and depth for which Americans would elect him, trusting these virtues would guide us in hard times. Patriotic etiquette discourages politicians, especially presidents, from bearing complexities in public forums.
But war-weary, broke and scared Americans will welcome the president breaking rules and speaking awkward truths.
Invasion and violence, like chickens, do come home to roost. We’re ready for a leader who grasps history’s complications and heeds its lessons and who won’t release us from one war only to tie us to another, and another.
Nora Eisenberg is the director of the City University of New York’s Faculty Fellowship Publication Program. Her short stories, essays and reviews have appeared in such places as the Partisan Review, the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times, Tikkun, and the Guardian UK. Her third novel, When You Come Home, which explores the 1991 Gulf War and Gulf War illness, was published last month by Curbstone Press.
Tom Friedman Offers a Perfect Definition of ‘Terrorism’ January 14, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Media.
Tags: al-Qaeda, civilian deaths, collateral damage, gaza, glenn greenwald, hamas, hezbolloh, idf, israel, jeffrey goldberg, lebanon, Middle East, new york times, noncombatant targets, Palestine, propaganda, rashid khalidi, roger hollander, terror, terrorism, tom friedman, War Crimes
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Tom Friedman, one of the nation’s leading propagandists for the Iraq War and a vigorous supporter of all of Israel’s wars, has a column today in The New York Times explaining and praising the Israeli attack on Gaza. For the sake of robust and diverse debate (for which our Liberal Media is so well known), Friedman’s column today appears alongside an Op-Ed from The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the nation’s leading (and most deceitful) propagandists for the Iraq War and a vigorous supporter of all of Israel’s wars, who explains that Hamas is incorrigibly hateful and radical and cannot be negotiated with. One can hardly imagine a more compelling exhibit demonstrating the complete lack of accountability in the “journalism” profession — at least for those who are loyal establishment spokespeople who reflexively cheer on wars — than a leading Op-Ed page presenting these two war advocates, of all people, as experts, of all things, on the joys and glories of the latest Middle East war.
In any event, Friedman’s column today is uncharacteristically and refreshingly honest. He explains that the 2006 Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon was, contrary to conventional wisdom, a great success. To make this case, Friedman acknowledges that the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians was not an unfortunate and undesirable by-product of that war, but rather, was a vital aspect of the Israeli strategy — the centerpiece, actually, of teaching Lebanese civilians a lesson they would not soon forget:
Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians – the families and employers of the militants – to restrain Hezbollah in the future.
Israel’s military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon – when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That’s when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?”
Friedman says that he is “unsure” whether the current Israeli attack on Gaza is similiarly designed to teach Palestinians the same lesson by inflicting “heavy pain” on civilians, but he hopes it is:
In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.
The war strategy which Friedman is heralding — what he explicitly describes with euphemism-free candor as “exacting enough pain on civilians” in order to teach them a lesson — is about as definitive of a war crime as it gets. It also happens to be the classic, textbook definition of “terrorism.” Here is how the U.S. Department of State defined “terrorism” in its 2001 publication, Patterns of Global Terrorism:
No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:
The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant (1) targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. . . .
(1) For purposes of this definition, the term “noncombatant” is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.
Other than the fact that Friedman is advocating these actions for an actual state rather than a “subnational group,” can anyone identify any differences between (a) what Friedman approvingly claims was done to the Lebanese and what he advocates be done to Palestinians and (b) what the State Department formally defines as “terrorism”? I doubt anyone can. Isn’t Friedman’s “logic” exactly the rationale used by Al Qaeda: we’re going to inflict “civilian pain” on Americans so that they stop supporting their government’s domination of our land and so their government thinks twice about bombing more Muslim countries? It’s also exactly the same “logic” that fuels the rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas into Israel.
It should be emphasized that the mere fact that Tom Friedman claims that this is Israel’s motivation isn’t proof that it is. The sociopathic lust of a single war cheerleader can’t fairly be projected onto those who are actually prosecuting the war. But one can’t help noticing that this “teach-them-a-lesson” justification for civilian deaths in Gaza appears with some frequency among its advocates, at least among a certain strain of super-warrior, Israel-centric Americans — e.g.: Marty “do not fuck with the Jews” Peretz and Michael “to wipe out a man’s entire family, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t give his colleagues at least a moment’s pause” Goldfarb — who love to cheer on Middle East wars from a safe and sheltered distance.
Some opponents of the Israeli war actually agree with Friedman about the likely goals of the attack on Gaza. Writing last week in The New York Times, Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi noted:
This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”
This AP article yesterday described how “terrified residents ran for cover Tuesday in a densely populated neighborhood of Gaza City as Israeli troops backed by tanks thrust deeper into the city.” It reported that “an Israeli warplane fired a missile at the former Gaza city hall, used as a court building in recent years . . . . The 1910 structure was destroyed and many stores in the market around it were badly damaged.” And it quoted an Israeli military officer as follows: “Soldiers shoot at anything suspicious, use lots of firepower, and blast holes through walls to move around.”
The efficacy of Friedman’s desired strategy of inflicting pain on Palestinian civilians in order to change their thinking and behavior is unclear. The lack of clarity is due principally to the fact that Israel is still blocking journalists from entering Gaza. But this Sunday’s New York Times article — reporting on unconfirmed claims that Israel was using white phosphorus on the civilian population (a claim the IDF expressly refused to deny) — contains this anecdotal evidence that The Friedman Strategy is actually quite counter-productive:
Still, white phosphorus can cause injury, and a growing number of Gazans report being hurt by it, including in Beit Lahiya, Khan Yunis, and in eastern and southwestern Gaza City. When exposed to air, it ignites, experts say, and if packed into an artillery shell, it can rain down flaming chemicals that cling to anything they touch.
Luay Suboh, 10, from Beit Lahiya, lost his eyesight and some skin on his face Saturday when, his mother said, a fiery substance clung to him as he darted home from a shelter where his family was staying to pick up clothes.
The substance smelled like burned trash, said Ms. Jaawanah, the mother who fled her home in Zeitoun, who had experienced it too. She had no affection for Hamas, but her sufferings were changing that. “Do you think I’m against them firing rockets now?” she asked, referring to Hamas. “No. I was against it before. Not anymore.”
It’s far easier to imagine a population subjected to this treatment becoming increasingly radicalized and belligerent rather than submissive and compliant, as Friedman intends. But while the efficacy of The Friedman Strategy is unclear, the fact that it is a perfect distillation of a “war crime” and “terrorism” is not unclear at all.
One might ordinarily find it surprising that our elite opinion-makers are so openly and explicitly advocating war crimes and terrorism (“inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large” and “‘educate’ Hamas by inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza population”). But when one considers that most of this, in the U.S., is coming from the very people who applied the same “suck-on-this” reasoning to justify the destruction of Iraq, and even more so, when one considers that our highest political officials are now so openly — even proudly — acknowledging their own war crimes, while our political and media elites desperately (and almost unanimously) engage in every possible maneuver to protect them from any consequences from that, Friedman’s explicit advocacy of these sorts of things is a perfectly natural thing to see.