Saturday, March 24, 2007

The War on Error (WOE)

I hold this truth to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, but some are created more equal than others.
CNN reports that a Pentagon investigation will recommend nine officers, including up to four generals, be held accountable for missteps in the aftermath of the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who walked away from a $3.6 million contract with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals to serve in the military following the 9/11 attacks. He was killed in Afghanistan by fellow troops who mistook him for an enemy soldier. It's telling that the US military is willing to punish senior officers for the accidental death of one American while no one is held accountable for the death of thousands of Iraqi civilians who are the victims of an illegal and incompetent US occupation of their country. On a related note, I have just finished reading James Bovard's book Terrorism and Tyranny (which won the Lysander Spooner Award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003). The book is an excellent critique of the War on Terror and shows just how it has become a war waged on freedom, not for it. I would recommend it to all. The book relates the case of Gen. Hussein Kamel who was chief of Saddam's secret weapons programme till his defection to Jordan in 1995. In August 2002, months prior to the Iraqi invasion, US Vice-President Dick Cheney declared that the defection of Kamel "should serve as a reminder to all that we often learn more as the result of defections than we learned from the (weapons) inspection regime itself". And just what did the US learn from Kamel? He revealed that "Iraq had halted the production of VX nerve agent in the 1980s and destroyed its banned missiles, stocks of anthrax ans other chemical agents and poison gases soon after the Persian Gulf War...I ordered the destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons -biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed". In spite of having this information in 1995, the US insisted on maintaining punitive UN sanctions that killed approximately 500,000 Iraqi kids. According to the UN, the infant/young child mortality rate shot up from 50 per 1000 live births in 1990 to 133 per 1000 in 2001 in what Professor Richard Garfield declared to be "the only instance of a sustained increase in mortality in a stable population of more than 2 million in the last 200 years". Dennis Halliday, former UN administrator of the oil-for-food programme called it "nothing less than genocide". To date, not a single US official has been held to account for what seventy members of the US Congress in a letter to President Clinton described as "infanticide masquerading as policy". (In a grave indictment of the current US occupation of Iraq, a recent poll commissioned by the BBC, ABC News, ARD German TV and USA Today ahead of the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion found that 50% of Iraqis thought that their situation was actually worse than before 2003.) 
Finally the role the media played in stampeding the US headlong into the conflict is rarely discussed. But now a timeline by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), a self-proclaimed US media watchdog, reveals the complicity of US journalists and media houses in creating the impression of imminent threat, scaring millions of gullible Americans (and at least one Kenyan: I was taken in by the everyone-was-in-agreement-on-the-intelligence-regarding-Iraqi-weapons fib) into supporting what was clearly an unprovoked and unjustifiable attack on Iraq. Excerpts:
September 7, 2002 —Speaking of the need to disarm Iraq, George W. Bush refers to a report by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) alleging that Iraq was six months away from developing a nuclear weapon. No such report exists, as MSNBC reports on its website (oddly, the article was quickly removed from MSNBC's website, as Paul Krugman would note months later—4/29/03). Bush's lie mostly escapes media scrutiny; as John MacArthur recalled months later (Columbia Journalism Review, 5/603), the Washington Post half-heartedly acknowledged the problem deep in a story: In the twenty-first paragraph of her story on the press conference, the Washington Post's Karen DeYoung did quote an IAEA spokesman saying, in DeYoung's words, "that the agency has issued no new report," but she didn't confront the White House with this terribly interesting fact. September 16, 2002 —"DOOMSDAY PLOT" is the New York Post's cover story. "Saddam Aims to Give Terrorists Briefcase Bio-Bombs," was the subhead, accompanied by a photograph of someone holding a metal attaché case. What a scoop for the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper—especially since none of the other papers that morning seemed to have even heard this catastrophic news. How did the paper uncover the plot? "U.S. intelligence officials fear that Saddam Hussein has concocted a doomsday plan that would use Al Qaeda to attack America with Iraqi-provided biological weapons, the Post has learned." Intelligence officials fear? "The threat has been raised in secret intelligence assessments.... The officials came up with the nightmare scenario—which could include easily concealed briefcase bio-bombs—after concluding that Saddam has few options available once U.S. attacks begin." Came up with? Could include? Apparently "POST EXTRAPOLATES FROM ALARMIST SPECULATION" was too long for a headline. October 1, 2002 —CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather proclaims that a report by Pentagon correspondent David Martin points to "new evidence" linking Al-Qaeda and Iraq, "which is at least enough to keep suspicions alive." Martin's "evidence" is thin, however. His "clearest link" is that a senior member of Al-Qaeda allegedly fled to Iraq after the US invasion of Afghanistan, although there is no indication that anyone in Iraq's government knew about it or approved of his trip. —Responding to a trip to Baghdad by Congressional Democrats opposed to the Iraq War (Reps. Jim McDermott and David Bonior), Washington Post columnist George Will writes that "Saddam Hussein finds American collaborators among senior congressional Democrats." October 7, 2002 —As noted in a FAIR Action Alert (10/10/02), CNN host Connie Chung takes Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Ca.) to task for expressing doubts about claims made by George W. Bush about Iraq's weapons. At one point Chung interrupts Thompson to say, "You mean you don't believe what President Bush just said? With all due know... I mean, what..." Chung adds: "So it sounds almost as if you're asking the American public, 'Believe Saddam Hussein, don't believe President Bush.'
None of the journalists lost their jobs over this media fiasco. On the contrary, during the war itself, the unfortunate Peter Arnett was fired by NBC and National Geographic for saying on Iraqi TV the U.S. war plan has "failed."

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