Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Costs of 'Intervention' in Syria

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends" - Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Syria braces itself for a barrage of cruise missiles based on assertions of guilt by proven liars and dubious evidence provided by Israel, a nation with a clear vested interest in the removal of Bashar al-Assad, how are we to rate the performance of the world's media?

Even the UK's Guardian, which - given its fearless NSA reporting - one would expect to hold leaders to strict account has proved weak, negligent even. John Hilley at his Zenpolitics blog writes:

Instead of outright denunciation of Cameron and his war-salivating ministers, rather than explicit exposure of their mendacious motives, we're asked to indulge this set of political psychotics, ruminate on Blair's prior 'mistakes' and kowtow to the great charade of 'parliamentary accountability'.

True to form, it's all here in the Guardian, with its noble postures, tempered admonitions and guiding advice to Cameron on the need to persuade and carry the public. This is what passes for a serious, 'radical' response to scheming warmongers.

The Guardian could have led with an unambiguous rejection of Cameron, Hague and the whole R2P deceit they and their transatlantic masters are foisting on the public. Instead, we have this safe introspection, all serving to whitewash their crimes and legitimise the fiction of 'measured liberal intervention'.

When those cruise missiles start falling on Damascus, the Guardian will stand back and say 'we did our vanguard best'. It won't be remotely good enough. Such cowardly editorials are nothing but liberal bleating for war.

And Media Lens highlights media double standards with regard to the 'massacres that matter' and the use of 'Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) as a tool for Western imperialism.

With a few honorable exceptions, the corporate-owned media has engaged in caveat-laden reporting obviously designed for cover just in case the 'evidence' is once again proved to be 'faulty' after the fact.

A good start would be high-profile journalists pointing out the stunning hypocrisy of Western leaders:

"The use of chemical weapons on men, women and children is a flagrant abuse of international law and if we stand idly by we set a very dangerous precedent." - Nick Clegg

"Almost a hundred years ago the whole world came together and said that the use of chemical weapons was morally indefensible and completely wrong...[]...and I don't believe we can let that (alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad government) stand." - David Cameron

"Make no mistake: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny." - John Kerry

It beggars belief that these words can be spoken with straight faces by representatives of governments which have themselves used chemical weapons (and worse). Will David Cameron also not 'let stand' American use of white phosphorus in Iraq or the herbicides and defoliants used for Agent Orange in Vietnam? What accountability does John Kerry expect with regard to US use of napalm in WWII, in the Korean War and the Vietnam War?

[Quick question for pro-interventionists. As John Kerry believes there 'must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people', and that a missile strike would be an apt response in order to teach Syria not to use these weapons again, do you believe that the US should also have been punished in the same fashion by an international coalition for, say, using white phosphorus against Iraqi civilians in Fallujah?]

The media has framed Syria in simplistic terms: a ruthless dictator crushing any and all opposition to his brutal rule. The reality is far more complex, making any attack on Syria extremely risky. The need for evidence and the legality of intervention has already been discussed on this blog, but an authoritative examination of the consequences of intervention is sorely missing in the media.

For authority we must turn to an expert on the region. Ed Husain, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in a debate in the Economist:

Military intervention in Syria is ill-conceived, short-sighted, counter-productive, and likely to generate more killings and massacres rather than stop them. Unlike any other Arab nation, Syria is home to varied and numerous assortments of religious sects, tribes, ethnicities and historic rivalries. In contrast to the uprisings in Yemen, Egypt and Libya, we have not witnessed high-level political and military defections inside Syria. And the largest cities in Syria — Damascus and Aleppo — have so far been relatively calm. Whatever the reasons—fear of, or support for, Bashar Assad—the opposition has thus failed to mobilise key constituencies inside Syria that would indicate to us that the regime is losing control.

Mr Assad retains a tight grip on the Ba’ath party. Its control of mosques, schools, businesses, police and local government means that it can still marshal large crowds of supporters in Damascus and Aleppo. Prominent Sunni Muslim clerics with regional weight, including Ramadan al-Bouti, have come out in support of the regime. At Friday prayers across the country they still pray for the strength of the government and call for “the destruction of its enemies”— Islamic reinforcement of Mr Assad’s government in a deeply religious country should not be underestimated.

Just as Mr Assad’s supporters use religion in Syria, so do his opponents. The footage coming out of Syria showing opposition forces killing soldiers and publicly torturing any who are accused of “spying” for the regime is deeply troubling; these are not the actions of democracy activists. In Tunisia and Egypt we heard cries for freedom, democracy and human rights. Sadly, in Syria, we are hearing shouts of “Allahu Akbar” and “jihad”. Al-Qaeda has now officially entered this conflict. Military intervention assumes that we will support one side. Granted, Mr Assad is an Iranian stooge. But at least we know the nature of that enemy. The debilitating differences among the opposition, the lack of leadership, the taking up of arms, the torture and killing of opponents, and the co-ordination with al-Qaeda and jihadists from Iraq and the Gulf should force us to stop and take stock. Who are we being asked to support, much less arm? And with what consequences?

Moral impulse and outrage alone cannot shape foreign policy. Strategic calculations, national interests and geopolitical implications are paramount. In an attempt to stop the killing of thousands in Syria, military intervention and then toppling the regime risk unleashing forces that could kill millions. Mr Assad’s supporters are just as brutal and vicious as the opposition. With Christians and other minorities fleeing across the Middle East, how wise is it to put in power a dysfunctional Sunni opposition? The premature removal of the Assad regime by force would not only result in a sectarian bloodbath inside Syria, but also encourage Iraqi Sunnis to violently agitate against Shia rule in Iraq. Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere would see their historic moment to create a homeland by forcing these countries to give territory, or face political violence. The fragile political balance in Lebanon would be threatened by greater Sunni-Shia clashes, led by Hizbullah.

In private, senior Israeli officials are aghast at the prospect of a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government in Syria and are demanding that the all-important Golan Heights be returned. For all Mr Assad’s confrontational rhetoric, Israel and Syria have enjoyed relative calm on the border. With terrorist threats from the Sinai in Egypt, and the Camp David accords regularly being tested by Egypt’s new authorities, is this really the juncture at which to further threaten Israel’s security?

The immediate priority is to stop the loss of life on both sides in the conflict in Syria. The best guarantee of that is to allow Russian, French and British diplomats to work together to broker a ceasefire with immediate effect. The British connection with Syria is unique: Mr Assad’s wife is British, and her father is Syria’s de facto ambassador-at-large in Europe. British and French ties to Syrian opposition factions are also strong. Without Russian involvement, the Syrian regime will not budge. A combined effort, with America at arm’s length, is still the best way forward. Agreement from the Syrian and Russian governments can pave the way for peace. Without this, even peacekeeping missions would be seen as a declaration of war by China, Russia, Iran and Syria. With al-Qaeda on the ground, and Russia and China prepared to defend the regime, it is deeply imprudent to launch air strikes or missiles or even arm the rebels. The Free Syrian Army’s several thousand fighters are no match for Mr Assad’s forces of around 320,000 soldiers.

Cooler heads must prevail in Western governments. Diplomatic options have not yet been fully exhausted. After the Iraq debacle, we cannot choose military options over diplomacy so readily. In the great game to bring down Iran, and to strengthen Israel, do not go through Syria. Syria will prove to be yet another deadly, expensive detour for the West. Think Iraq, but compounded by sectarianism and regional contagion.

Mr. Husain warns of a sectarian bloodbath that could easily spread throughout the entire region, and we don't need to look very far to see how likely a scenario this is. Dozens are killed daily in Iraq and violence and lawlessness is widespread in Libya, two nations previously installed with democracy and freedom thanks to Western 'intervention'.

Then there is the financial cost. With both the US and UK with their enormous debts and deficits insisting that they must curb spending, and with savage cuts to benefits in the UK causing widespread outrage, selling a deeply unpopular intervention that is supported only by 25% in the UK and an incredibly low 9% in the US is likely to stir serious opposition from the public in both nations.

This infographic shows some of the costs of military hardware. [Note: this information is around two years old so we can expect the costs to be higher now.] A single cruise missile is shown to cost at least $830,000 and a BBC report from 2011 says that a cruise missile costs 500,000 pounds, with one trip by a Tornado aircraft costing tens of thousands of pounds in fuel alone. The Huffington Post reported in 2011 even higher costs:

In the opening days of the assault on Libya, the United States and the United Kingdom launched a barrage of at least 161 Tomahawk cruise missiles to flatten Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses and pave the way for coalition aircraft.

In fiscal terms, at a time when Congress is fighting over every dollar, the cruise missile show of military might was an expenditure of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. Each missile cost $1.41 million, close to three times the cost listed on the Navy's website.

Given that there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of possible targets (interactive) in Syria, and that around 7,700 bombs or missiles were dropped/launched in Libya, we can expect costs to become very high, and even higher still if a Tornado or two is downed by any of the hundreds of SAM sites shown on the linked interactive map: one Tornado costs around 50 million pounds to replace.

To put these figures into perspective, almost 5,000 nurses left the NHS between May 2010 and August 2012, a loss blamed by unions and Labour on UK Coalition cuts. Starting salaries for nurses are from 14,294 pounds at band 2 (clinical support workers) and 21,388 pounds at band 5 (fully qualified nurses). One cruise missile (at 500,000 pounds) would pay the annual salary for 35 clinical support workers or 23 fully qualified nurses. The cost of 142 cruise missiles would replace every single one of those lost 5,000 staff.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military, General Martin Dempsey, told Congress last month that even limited strikes against Syria would require hundreds of aircraft, ships and submarines, costing billions of dollars. He also warned of the risk of retaliatory attacks and 'collateral damage impacting civilians', as well as 'unintended consequences'.

Finally there's the human cost. The New York Times found credible evidence for dozens upon dozens of civilian deaths in the 'surgical' Libya air strikes, implying there were many more for which credible evidence could not be found in the chaos. Bereaved families will greatly suffer due to loss of wage-earners along with grief, depression, PTSD and other mental disorders. Ensuing sectarian violence will lead inevitably to increased incidence of torture, rape and killing as well as property damage. Infrastructure will be damaged or destroyed, meaning unsafe water and power cuts. Another Iraq and Libya in the making.

Despite massive public opposition (remarkable in itself given the insipid response by the press); despite the illegality of any strike without UN Security Council approval; despite the likelihood of a strike causing heightened sectarian violence that may spread throughout the Middle East; and despite the moral indefensibility of spending huge sums on destruction and killing while massive cuts are deeply hurting the poor, sick and disabled at home...despite all these factors, President Obama and his loyal Western subordinates are determined to press ahead nonetheless. This is not only undemocratic, it is insane. Unsurprising, then, that Nobel laureate President Obama dared not utter the word 'peace' even once in yesterday's speech commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of celebrated pacifist Martin Luther King's March on Washington.

There are no good reasons to strike Syria and countless ones not to. Pressure from all quarters must be put on belligerent Western leaders to cool down and return to the negotiating table. That's what the diplomats are paid for.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Wag The Dog: Syria Edition

"For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction [as justification for invading Iraq] because it was the one reason everyone could agree on" - Paul Wolfowitz (May 28, 2003)

In light of reports from the medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres that Damascus hospitals have treated thousands of civilians for neurotoxicity - a sign of chemical weapon usage - the international community is considering a response. The Guardian is providing live updates here.

An article at the Information Clearing House website has drawn attention to an internal email (dated December 2011) of the Stratfor 'global intelligence' company that was published by WikiLeaks. It is a remarkable email, in that it clearly demonstrates the intent of the US to intervene in the affairs of Syria, and strongly implies that - among many other things - agents from the US, France, Jordan, Turkey, and the UK were already on the ground carrying out reconnaissance and the training of opposition forces.

While the content of the email is unambiguously damning - a clear smoking gun of a plan for regime change in Syria - equally striking is the casual tone of the writer. It is that of an employee who is extremely comfortable, not only in the knowledge that the US will eventually force regime change, but also that a way will be found to make it look good in the media, presumably understanding that another department in the Pentagon or the CIA will handle that side of things. The employee assumes the humdrum tone of a person simply doing what they are expected to do - passing on useful information to his superiors - without any consideration that such actions may be illegal.

This casual approach speaks volumes about the attitude from the very top down of US officials and their employees in the public and private sectors toward the nation's obligations to international law; namely that any 'problems' with such obligations can be worked around to everyone's satisfaction (at least far enough to get the job done), as demonstrated with the invasion ten years ago of Iraq by the US and its 'Coalition of the Willing' without a UN resolution.

Chapter VII of the UN Charter states that nations should settle their differences in a peaceful manner - with two exceptions:

1. If the UN identifies any threat to peace, it may take action by authorizing (via the UN Security Council) willing nation states to intervene.

2. If a nation is acting in self-defense.

In this case neither are viable as permanent members Russia (and probably China) would veto any such resolution. Any attack on Syria by the US and/or any of its allies would hence be illegal under international law.

The UK Foreign Minister William Hague had this to say:

"Of course we want the maximum pressure from world opinion, from diplomatic work, on the Syrian regime not to do these things again. It has to be pointed out that such pressure does not appear to have worked. We have discussed over the last year the smaller scale chemical attacks that the regime has carried over the last year. On every occasion we have given direct messages, sometimes passed to the UN, to the Syrians not to do that. We have discussed it with the Russians and indeed sometimes the Syrians have heard from the Russians and the Iranians that they should not conduct chemical attacks. This does not appear to have worked because here is a large-scale chemical attack for which there is no plausible explanation other than that it has been carried out by the Assad regime."


"The Assad regime did this. The use of chemical weapons in the 21st century, on a large scale like this, cannot go unaddressed, cannot be ignored. Our position is the same as France and the US."

A Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that around 60 percent of Americans think the United States should not intervene in Syria's civil war, while just 9 percent believe Barack Obama should act. The poll found that a majority opposes intervention even if chemical weapons are used in Syria.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that hysteria is growing and that Washington, Paris and London have produced no evidence of the perpetrators of the chemical attack. He says that he is skeptical about Western chemical weapon claims and that any use of force in Syria without a UN Security Council mandate would be a 'blatant violation of international law'.

A year ago Barack Obama stated that use of chemical weapons by the Assad government would change his stance and cross a 'red line'. Putting aside the fact that this is a propaganda device designed for easy mass media regurgitation - like the 'axis of evil' - it appears that the red line has now been crossed and the public has been well prepared for it by the media whether they want action or not. It seems that after the Iraq debacle, the US government has learned that it should at least appear reluctant and reasonable before taking military action - no 'bring it on' rhetoric.

High-level officials from the US, France and the UK have stated unequivocally that they believe Bashar al-Assad's forces carried out the attack with chemical weapons. This may sound familiar to readers, as such certainty has been expressed by US officials before - before the Iraq invasion:

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.
Dick Cheney
August 26, 2002

Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.
George W. Bush
September 12, 2002

If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world.
Ari Fleischer
December 2, 2002

The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it.
Ari Fleischer
December 6, 2002

We know for a fact that there are weapons there.
Ari Fleischer
January 9, 2003

Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.
George W. Bush
January 28, 2003

We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.
Colin Powell
February 5, 2003

The world's media must therefore urgently demand the following:

1. The presentation of irrefutable and conclusive evidence regarding the identity of the perpetrators of this attack as well as the presentation of the evidence already cited by top-level officials (before any examination of the scene by UN investigators).

2. An explanation of why President Assad would order such an act in the knowledge that it would give the US and its allies the perfect excuse to destroy his military capabilities and bring about his downfall, particularly in light of the revelations in the hacked Stratfor email, and given that there is no reason why Mr Assad would rely on a Russian veto after the precedent set in Iraq.

An exclusive report published today shows that the US allowed Saddam Hussein to use chemical weapons on Iranian troops. When one also considers the well-documented US use of Agent Orange as part of its chemical weapons program in Vietnam (Operation Ranch Hand) and its dropping of millions of cluster bombs on Laos that kill and maim civilians even today, not to mention the biological and chemical experiments it carried out on its own troops and people (often without their knowledge), it becomes clear that the credibility of the US on the issue of WMDs is zero; and that of its allies - by servile association - is also non-existent.

In order to preserve innocent lives, the media must hold belligerent world leaders to account and demand irrefutable evidence while at the same time eliminating all other possible explanations (like false flags). More than a million people have died in Iraq because of the West's 'intervention' and dozens more die in sectarian violence every day. The criminal negligence and even outright cheerleading of major media organs in the run-up to the Iraq War must not be repeated.

Note: It was Jeremy Hammond's hacking of Stratfor that brought the intent of the US in Syria to the attention of the public. While the hacking of private data is (and should be) a crime, if the private data contains evidence of government collusion with private companies to commit illegal acts, the hack then becomes an act of whistleblowing. Support Jeremy Hammond here.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Two Weddings and a Funeral

"What Wessab's villagers knew of the U.S. was based on my stories about my wonderful experiences here. The friendships and values I experienced and described to the villagers helped them understand the America that I know and that I love. Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time. What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an intense anger against America in Wessab. This is not an isolated incident. The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis. I have spoken to many victims of U.S. drone strikes, like a mother in Jaar who had to identify her innocent 18-year-old son's body through a video in a stranger’s cellphone, or the father in Shaqra who held his four- and six-year-old children as they died in his arms. Recently in Aden, I spoke with one of the tribal leaders present in 2009 at the place where the U.S. cruise missiles targeted the village of al-Majalah in Lawdar, Abyan. More than 40 civilians were killed, including four pregnant women. The tribal leader and others tried to rescue the victims, but the bodies were so decimated that it was impossible to differentiate between those of children, women and their animals. Some of these innocent people were buried in the same grave as their animals." - US-educated Yemeni activist/writer Farea al-Muslimi's testimony at Senate hearing (April 2013)

In July 2008 47 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in a US military airstrike. The group was escorting a bride to her wedding ceremony in the groom's village in Nangarhar province. Three bombs hit the group in succession as they stopped for a rest. The first bomb killed a group of children that were ahead of the main group. The aircraft returned and dropped a second bomb in the middle of the main group, killing a large number of women. The bride and two other girls miraculously escaped the second bomb, but the third finished them as they tried to escape. The US government initially denied that any civilians had been killed until an Afghan government investigation determined the facts. It is known as the Deh Bala wedding party airstrike.

In November of the same year 63 people including 37 civilians - again mostly women and children - were killed in another US military airstrike at a housing complex where a wedding was being celebrated in the village of Wech Baghtu in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Two days after the strike, Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded that then newly-elected Barack Obama (soon to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize) end the killing of civilians: "Our demand is that there will be no civilian casualties in Afghanistan. We cannot win the fight against terrorism with airstrikes — this is my first demand of the new president of the United States — to put an end to civilian casualties." A US government official commented, "If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences."

In June 2009 US drones launched an attack on a funeral procession in the city of Makeen, South Waziristan. Militants killed earlier that same day were being buried. 60 people were killed, while other sources claim that there were up to 83 casualties. The 'Makeen airstrike' is considered to be one of the most deadly attacks in the drone era.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism based in London has carried out painstaking research on drone strikes, using extremely conservative methods, meaning it is likely that its figures are well below the reality. Its research has found clear evidence that not only do the US and NATO bomb weddings and funerals, they also target rescuers aiming to recover the bodies of their loved ones and neighbors in so-called 'double-tap' strikes.

John Brennan, CIA Director and former top counter-terrorism adviser to Barack Obama stated that the US has the right to unilaterally strike terrorists anywhere in the world, even away from battlefields:

"Because we are engaged in an armed conflict with al- Qaeda, the United States takes the legal position that, in accordance with international law, we have the authority to take action against al-Qaeda and its associated forces. The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al-Qaeda as being restricted solely to 'hot' battlefields like Afghanistan."

The stance of the US raises serious questions with regard to international law and the strategies employed in the 'war on terror'.

From an article on this blog last year:

Let's take a closer look at international law. The Third Geneva Convention states that a so-called 'unlawful combatant' is a civilian who directly engages in armed conflict in violation of the laws of war.

Targeted killing, often executed by drone aircraft, is the intentional killing of a target deemed to be an 'unlawful combatant' not currently in the custody of the attacking power. This assumes that the person has allegedly lost the immunity granted by the Third Geneva Convention because they are allegedly engaged in terrorism or another form of armed conflict. Note that under the most basic concepts of most legal systems, such intent can only be surmised in a court of law or similar tribunal.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provided in August 2010 a succinct FAQ of what is wrong with targeted killing, [standing] in stark contrast to the assertions of Mr. Brennan.

From the FAQ:

Both the Constitution and international law prohibit the use of lethal force against civilians outside of armed conflict except in very narrow circumstances: as a last resort to prevent an imminent attack that is likely to cause death or serious physical injury.

Allowing the use of warlike tactics far from any battlefield — using drones or other means — turns the whole world into a war zone and sets a dangerous example for other countries which might feel justified in doing the same. If the U.S. claims it can kill suspected enemies of the U.S. anywhere — using unmanned drones or otherwise — then other countries will regard killing their enemies within our borders as justified. We wouldn't be okay with the prospect of other countries executing their suspected enemies within U.S. borders.

The targeted killing of individuals who are suspected — but not proven — to be guilty of crimes also risks the deaths of innocent people. Over the last decade, we have seen the U.S. government wrongly imprison hundreds of men as terrorists based on weak, wrong or unreliable evidence, only to eventually free them. The consequence of such mistakes is far greater when the end result is death; there is no recourse for killing the wrong person.

What about innocent until proven guilty? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which all NATO nations are signatories to, states in article 11:

"Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence."

Tragic consequences are not limited to the strikes themselves: A Los Angeles Times article reports that a militant group called Khorasan Mujahedin targets people suspected of being US or NATO informants. The group kidnaps, tortures and usually kills suspects, then distributes videotapes of killings in street markets to serve as warnings. Almost certainly many of these 'informants' will be mistakenly kidnapped, while local power brokers will inevitably abuse the climate of fear to remove rivals: more innocent deaths and grief for families.

As stated by the ACLU, John Brennan's attempt to justify these killings sets an extremely dangerous precedent. By US logic, any suspected terrorist defined as 'in conflict' with a nation state is a viable target at any location on the planet. China or Russia, therefore, can now feel perfectly free to target anyone they deem a 'terrorist' anywhere, including - say - a wedding in New York or a funeral in Boston. Can one even begin to imagine what would happen if Russia bombed a New York wedding? Would the Western media label the act as anything other than the most repugnant act of terror possible? Such an action is unacceptable, whatever the justification, and is a textbook example of a terrorist act, hence making the US and its NATO allies purveyors of terrorism on an industrial scale in the nations it targets.

International law, embodied in treaties signed between the nations of the world in good faith, must be regarded neither as an inconvenience nor something to be twisted using weasel reasoning. Any legal 'ambiguity', seized upon by the US and NATO for their own strategic goals, is an enormous threat to world security. This faux-perceived ambiguity must be urgently addressed, and any nation which regards itself as moral must stand up to this campaign of mass murder disguised as warfare. There can only be one answer to the murder of children.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pure Adversarial Journalism: Why Wikileaks is Establishment Enemy Number One

"If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism" - Hunter S. Thompson

Back in June of this year Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi penned an essential piece on the nature of journalism, advancing the view that all journalism is advocacy for someone (or something) and mocking the mass media conceit that it is 'unbiased'. This article arose from Taibbi's obvious annoyance with some media establishment figures who attacked Glenn Greenwald for committing the sin of openly practicing 'advocacy journalism' while claiming that they absolutely do not.

Over to Matt:

All journalism is advocacy journalism. No matter how it's presented, every report by every reporter advances someone's point of view. The advocacy can be hidden, as it is in the monotone narration of a news anchor for a big network like CBS or NBC (where the biases of advertisers and corporate backers like GE are disguised in a thousand subtle ways), or it can be out in the open, as it proudly is with Greenwald, or graspingly with [Andrew] Sorkin, or institutionally with a company like Fox.

But to pretend there's such a thing as journalism without advocacy is just silly; nobody in this business really takes that concept seriously. "Objectivity" is a fairy tale invented purely for the consumption of the credulous public, sort of like the Santa Claus myth. Obviously, journalists can strive to be balanced and objective, but that's all it is, striving.

He goes on to make the vital point that advocacy need not be intentional, and that a writer may not even be conscious of it in his/her work:

Try as hard as you want, a point of view will come forward in your story. Open any newspaper from the Thirties or Forties, check the sports page; the guy who wrote up the box score, did he have a political point of view? He probably didn't think so. But viewed with 70 or 80 years of hindsight, covering a baseball game where blacks weren't allowed to play without mentioning the fact, that's apology and advocacy. Any journalist with half a brain knows that the biases of our time are always buried in our coverage.

What is journalism? Most definitions cite both the preparation and dissemination of material in the public interest that may otherwise remain private. So, if some random guy in a bar tells you something 'in the public interest' that you did not previously know, does that make him a journalist? No, it does not, so clearly a journalist must work through some kind of medium that is openly declared to be dedicated to the dissemination of such information. This could also include individuals (citizen journalists) who work with the declared purpose of bringing relevant or important information to the attention of the public.

Clearly traditional media organizations like the New York Times and Der Spiegel serve this purpose, but what about blogs? Are bloggers journalists?

Yes they are, because they also disseminate information they believe to be useful and 'in the public interest' from a position of knowledge. Many blogs are excellent resources for information that may not be adequately covered in the mainstream media (MSM). They may make mistakes or provide erroneous information - far more likely as there are often no editors or fact-checkers to catch such errors - but this does not negate the fact that they are journalists; readers probably do not need reminding of the multiple 'errors' found in the reporting of many prestigious traditional media outlets in the run-up to the Iraq War...yet the writers of those articles are even now referred to as 'journalists'.

[Note: 'Blogs' here refers to news or information blogs, not personal diaries]

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein stated during the recent debates in the US on a 'shield' law for protection of journalists that the definition of journalism in the bill should only apply to those who make a salary. This begs the question: would a hypothetical NYT journalist, on waiving his salary for a year to aid his financially struggling newspaper, magically cease to be a journalist?

New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer also weighed in on the debate with his own brand of wisdom:

"The world has changed. We're very careful in this bill to distinguish journalists from those who shouldn't be protected, WikiLeaks and all those, and we've ensured that. But there are people who write and do real journalism, in different ways than we're used to. They should not be excluded from this bill."

Here we come to the crux. Senator Schumer's phrasing is notably awkward, and the reason for this is simple: he is struggling to find words that disguise his true intent: he and his like-minded colleagues do not want to distinguish between entities that do and do not practice 'journalism'; rather they want a law that will protect the journalists they can control and permit prosecution of those they cannot.

Finding language that fits the definition you need in order to get what you want is nothing new in the political arena and mass media. Eric Blair himself wrote a celebrated essay on the topic that is all too relevant today. While the Feinsteins and Schumers of this world battle inconvenient enemies like linguistic semantics, the astute observer will see the whole charade for what it really is: yet another attempt to muzzle whistleblowers and those who enable their messages to reach the public. Money talks (and votes) as well: defenders of the NSA spying programs received twice as much defense and intelligence industry campaign money as opponents.

This relentless persecution invokes a certain ghost:

"Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness... ...Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" - Joseph Welch to Senator Joe McCarthy.

One might ask why the likes of Senator Feinstein do not go after Glenn Greenwald for publishing the details of these top-secret programs? A few have attempted to suggest that Mr. Greenwald be arrested, and there has even been one smear attempt (slapped down with ease by its target), but the US government and media class have, in the main, restrained their attacks to catty character assassination. Nevertheless it is notable that the NSA files are designated top secret, and yet the Guardian is not targeted; nor is its editor-in-chief hounded into captivity or subjected to a sustained global media smear campaign: all suffered by Wikileaks and Julian Assange.

The answer lies partly in the methods Wikileaks employs to protect whistleblowers. While Edward Snowden knew his identity would inevitably be ascertained, Wikileaks uses cutting-edge cryptography to ensure that sources remain completely anonymous, their identities unknown even to the organization or any of its personnel. This methodology is obviously unacceptable to those in positions of authority with something to hide: if they cannot (mafia tactics alert) 'make an example' of whistleblowers, how will they be able to discourage other such people who follow their consciences in the future?

[Aside: This, of course, demonstrates the fundamental misunderstanding of human nature that authoritarians have and always will have: history shows that there will always be a special type of person willing to sacrifice their own lives for the good of society, and this will never change. The efforts of dishonorable, dishonest officials to intimidate and terrify potential whistleblowers into silence will inevitably have the opposite effect on those few true idealists like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. When a person feels something strongly enough, their very life becomes of secondary importance. This ineffable facet of the human spirit, this unquenchable bravery, is incomprehensible to the deeply shallow characters infesting the halls of power, people who view self-preservation and self-enrichment as the only worthy goals in life.]

That Wikileaks represents journalism in its purest form is clear from the aggressive reaction of the establishment. Any story about Wikileaks or its editor-in-chief attracts large numbers of reader comments. While astroturfers are attracted to the fray like sharks to blood, countless misconceptions and outright lies are regurgitated by large numbers of other posters for public display. Given that the propaganda playbook (focus public attention on the messenger to distract from the story) has been thrown at Wikileaks and Julian Assange in particular, this is hardly a surprise. Every article must contain the obligatory 'rape allegations' line and even respected newspapers like the Guardian, which produces so much fine reporting on other issues, churns out error-strewn pieces which are often outright smears.

For this reason it never hurts to remind people of some facts about Julian Assange and Wikileaks:

1. Wikileaks is a not-for-profit organization that depends on donations for its survival and operation.

2. Julian Assange and Wikileaks have received numerous prestigious awards for journalism, including the Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism and the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.

3. Mr. Assange has been officially recognized (pdf) as a journalist by the UK High Court.

4. Wikileaks does not dump information indiscriminately online. Careful redaction to protect personal identities is carried out. [Note: The dump of the diplomatic cables occurred when David Leigh, a Guardian journalist, negligently and recklessly published a password despite being expressly told to keep it secret.]

5. One common criticism is that Mr. Assange should 'face justice' in Sweden. However:

From a Wikileaks FAQ (see original for sources):

Assange’s offers to be questioned over the sexual misconduct allegations made against him have repeatedly been turned down by Swedish authorities. When the allegations were made in August 2010, Assange stayed in Sweden for five weeks for the purpose of answering them. He was then given permission to leave by Swedish authorities and travelled to the U.K. Assange’s subsequent offers to be interviewed at Scotland Yard and the Swedish Embassy in London were rejected by Sweden. Sweden also rejected the government of Ecuador’s invitation to interview Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

If extradited to Sweden, Assange could be quickly and secretly sent on the U.S through the temporary surrender provision in the extradition treaty between those two countries. Assange has repeatedly agreed to go to Sweden to answer the allegations on the condition that the Swedish government agree not to extradite him on to the United States. Sweden has consistently refused, including when requested to provide such an agreement by the government of Ecuador.

Swedish authorities broke their own laws by leaking to the press that Assange was wanted for rape, without informing Assange.

Within hours there were millions of web-site hits for “Assange” + “rape”.

A rape allegation against Assange was initially dropped, deemed so weak as to not warrant investigation.

The rape allegation was reinstated after intervention by a Swedish politician, Claes Borgstrom, who is well-connected to U.S politicians.

One of Assange’s accusers was so upset that police were going to pursue a rape allegation against him that she did not sign her interview statement.

In November 2010, Interpol issued a Red Notice for Assange’s arrest, despite the fact that U.K police and Swedish authorities knew of his whereabouts. In contrast, an Orange Notice was issued for Colonel Qaddafi.

The treatment of Assange stands in stark contrast to the treatment by governments of men accused of similar offenses.

This page here sets out the philosophy and goals of the organization.

The profit motive of the corporate media ensures that Wikileaks, a non-profit organization, will always be a purer form of journalism. When Wikileaks receives information (note: which it does not solicit), it investigates the documents as far as possible to determine its authenticity and newsworthiness. When it is satisfied that the information is authentic and within the public interest, its staff write an accompanying news story (in the neutral, factual style employed in Wikipedia articles) in order to describe the release and its significance. The raw source material is also made freely available for public viewing so that readers may check for themselves.

Compare this with the methodology of the corporate media. News stories go through an editorial process which acts like a prism. Information that the media organ deems worthy of print gets through, yet much does not. Major factors in determining whether a story reaches the outside world include how much interest is likely to be shown by the public, and also whether an article presents potential harm to the interests of their advertisers. These considerations are a direct cause of sensationalism, exaggeration, slanting of news to put 'friendly' powers in a good light, and omission of information that is in the public interest. Slanting and omission are particularly devastating as they can lead potentially to millions of people having an erroneous or confusing impression of a serious issue: the so-called 'Benefits Britain' smearing of the poor and disabled in the UK media stands out as a particularly egregious example.

Wikileaks does what it says on the tin. Voluminous evidence demonstrates that most traditional forms of media, in myriad ways, do not. With notable exceptions, the true adversarial journalism practiced by Wikileaks is rare nowadays. In order to ensure a bright torch is kept constantly on the activities of demonstrably corrupt officials and those working behind them, transparency organizations like Wikileaks need your support. And if you have any doubts about the motives of Julian Assange, ask yourself why he has been hounded into captivity, kept in limbo, and smeared mercilessly throughout the corporate media. There is only one possible explanation for that.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

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