Monday, June 4, 2012

NY Times Bestows Humanity on Drone Victims

Could it be that the New York Times and Reuters and other news organizations are finally starting to heed some of the much-deserved criticism of their own uncritical coverage of the Obama drone attacks? For the most part, they have been willing propaganda tools of the government, referring to all the victims of the escalating assaults as "militants" -- even in the face of evidence that hundreds of innocent men, women and children have been among those killed.

The Nation's Jeremy Scahill had the guts to go on TV yesterday and become the first "pundit" to call the Obama drone program in Yemen murder. His characterization provoked all the outrage we have come to expect from presidential apologists -- blaming the messenger for speaking the truth that our charismatic leader has declared himself judge, jury and executioner and is breaking the law. My hope is that Scahill is just among the first wave of a sea change in how the mainstream media will be covering this story. Could complicity be on the way out, and could some much-needed adversarial journalism be making a comeback?

An article in today's Times has at last referred to those killed in the latest drone strike in Waziristan as "people", and even implies that the escalating attacks by Obama are a campaign of terror to force the Pakistanis to reopen their supply routes to Afghanistan. The roads had been closed ever since an American strike killed two dozen Pakistani border soldiers and Obama refused to apologize.  Reporter Declan Walsh's lead paragraph:
Missiles fired from a suspected American drone killed at least 14 people in Pakistan’s tribal belt early Monday, the third strike in as many days and a signal of the Obama administration’s determination to press ahead with the controversial covert campaign even as it conducts tense political negotiations in Islamabad.

Pakistani officials said on Monday that two missiles slammed into a compound and a pick-up truck in Hassu Khel, a small village just south of Mir Ali, the second largest town of North Waziristan. Between 14 and 16 people were killed in the attack, officials said, making it the deadliest in the tribal belt since November 2011.
A journalist from the area said the compound was being used by Uzbek, Tajik and Turkmen militants fighting for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an Al Qaeda-affiliated extremist group.
This is a small start in truth-telling to be sure, but an improvement all the same in the usual journalistic dialogue on the drone attacks. Heretofore, it's been five militants killed here, a dozen terrorists killed there. No names, no evidence. But notice how Walsh carefully differentiates the geography from the people living in it. He also goes to the trouble to identify by name the various factions suspected of operating in the area, rather than simply calling them "militants" or "al Qaeda associates."

Walsh even quotes a Pakistani official who directly accuses the Obama Administration of conducting the drone strikes out of political motives, as a boost to the re-election campaign. And when a White House official is reached for comment on the sudden surge in Drone strikes in heavily populated civilian areas, he mumbles something about an annoying cloud hanging around for weeks before it finally cleared up enough for the joystick operators to get a pristine-enough view of their projected bugsplats. (Of course he didn't use those words, but the subtext was evident.)

It was almost as though Walsh was turning to Glenn Greenwald for a Journalism 101 refresher course:
There is, as usual, no indication (wrote Greenwald recently) that these media outlets have any idea whatsoever about who was killed in these strikes. All they know is that “officials” (whether American or Pakistani) told them that they were “militants,” so they blindly repeat that as fact. They “report” this not only without having the slightest idea whether it’s true, but worse, with the full knowledge that the word “militant” is being aggressively distorted by deceitful U.S. government propaganda that defines the term to mean: any “military-age males” whom we kill (the use of the phrase “suspected militants” in the body of the article suffers the same infirmity).
How is it possible to have any informed democratic debate over a policy about which the U.S. media relentlessly propagandizes this way? If drone strikes kill nobody other than “militants,” then very few people will even think about opposing them (and that’s independent of the fact that the word “militant” is a wildly ambiguous term — militant about what? — though it is clearly designed (when combined with “Pakistan”) to evoke images of those who attacked the World Trade Center). Debate-suppression is not just the effect but the intent of this propaganda: like all propaganda, it is designed to deceive the citizenry in order to compel acquiescence to government conduct.
Meanwhile, the United States continues its doubly inhumane practice of raining its drone bombs down upon the rescuers and mourners of the initial rounds of attacks. The Guardian is calling the undeclared war on Pakistan a blitz, with the article alternately calling the victims "people", "militants" or the traditional, ass-covering "suspected militants."

I am still waiting for the mainstream press to start calling Obama's killing spree a vile episode of state-sponsored terrorism that has nothing at all to do with taking out anonymous militants. It has everything to do with killing civilians to force the Pakistani government to cave and open up its roads, to make it easier and cheaper for the American occupiers to move their idle Humvees into Afghanistan and continue waging their forever war.


John in Lafayette said...

Off topic, but VLT of Sydney, Australia had a great response to Paul Krugman today. If this is the VLT I think it is, this is a fitting place to point that out and recommend that readers here check out the response.

John in Lafayette said...

The Pakistani government needs to understand. You're either for us or against us.

I don't understand why the right hates Obama so when they loved GW Bush. Absolutely nothing has changed.

barbara madeloni said...

Just a brief word of thanks Karen for keeping the focus on the horrors being enacted by this administration. Your insight and humanity ground me.

Denis Neville said...

More ignominy of New York Times

Obama’s Cyberattacks

Steve Rendell @ FAIR, “Cyberwar Is War, White House Said– but NYT Didn't Notice,” writes:

“For the second time this week, the New York Times has published a revealing report on a secret, legally questionable Obama administration program, but failed to include independent legal analysis of the controversial program.”

First was the White House's drone assassination program. Second was Obama’s ordering a wave of cyberattacks against Iran.

Rendell asks, “If the U.S. government defines cyberattacks as acts of war, shouldn't that be mentioned in a Times report about how the U.S. is spearheading cyberattacks on Iran?”

Obama’s aggressiveness toward Iran led to a significant expansion of the first sustained use of cyberweapons by the United States.

Robert Wright @ The Atlantic, “President Obama's Hypocrisy on Cyberattacks,” does:

Now there is a new sophisticated virus, Flame, the latest cyberstrike infecting computers in Iran.

“American cybersecurity experts have long warned that it’s only a matter of time before someone turns an equally destructive cyberweapon on our own systems. Now that Stuxnet’s origins are clear, the odds of that happening might be even higher.” - Peter Maass, ProPublica

“We keep wondering: "Why do they hate us?"

It's only a matter of time before there will be blowback.


Zee said...

@John in Lafayette--

It only took about an hour of sifting through the 921 comments on Krugman's column to find VLT's response, an amount of time I would not normally invest in such a thing, but for the fact that our own VLT always has something of interest to say.

If I could be sure that I was not violating copyright laws, thereby getting Karen in trouble, I would happily reproduce the remark here.

Karen, let me know if it's legal to do so. Otherwise, I wish the rest of you a happy search that somehow turns out to be less time-consuming than mine was.

BTW: John, do you really read all of those comments?

Denis Neville said...

@ Zee, all – I love a puzzle!

For a search that is less time-consuming than Zee’s was, VLT’s comment was made at 2:44 a.m.

The spellings “realise”and “stabilising”would lead me to believe it’s not Valerie, but an Australian native. I could be wrong. Valerie will let us know, I’m sure.

Whether it is Valerie or not, it was a spot on comment.

VLT excerpt: “If only more Americans were better informed about the world we could be spared rhetoric which reduces the spectrum of economic options into a simplistic, scary binary opposition: "capitalist system vs. out-and-out socialism… When will Americans realise that rhetoric equating a government role in stabilising the economy to "socialism" is reductionist rot?”

My random sampling of the 921 comments adds weight to VLT’s comment.

As a side note, I did not see a comment by Bridget from Bootiful Ashville, whose absurdist comments were always interesting in an “off-the-wall” way. [Bridget was another puzzle we discussed here.]

Zee said...

@Denis & @All--

I, too, enjoy a puzzle.

I'm fairly confident that the remark was indeed made by Valerie.

It has been my observation that our own VLT has adopted Australian spelling, e.g., "behaviour", "labour," presumably as a courtesy to her new friends and neighbors, and the local population at large. I would probably do the same.

Still, I think that Valerie resides elsewhere in Oz than Sydney.

The puzzle deepens.

James F Traynor said...

The year 2025:

Today, at an unnamed Walmart, drones intercepted and eliminated union terrorists attempting to organize disgruntled workers. Collateral damage was minimal.

Kat said...

It appears that a drone has taken out yet another no. 2 official from the all powerful Al Quaeda What is not to love about this? No muss. No fuss.

Valerie said...

Well, I take a break from blogging to write a paper and study for final exams - and someone from my adopted country with my initial writes a comment that I would be honoured to own - if I had written it.

It is a different VLT - I live in Adelaide not Sydney- but I gotta say that I totally agree, it was excellent! Thanks @John in Lafayette for bringing it to our attention.