On Saturday, the entire humanitarian convoy of 227 trucks crossed back into Russia without incident after having successfully delivered its contents to the Luhansk distribution center. The unwavering round trip project from Russia surmounted considerable bureaucratic delays and political obstacles including wild assertions that the convoy’s true purpose was to ‘smuggle weapons’ to the east Ukraine rebels.
Amidst a multitude of frenzied claims from the Kiev government and its western allies that the convoy was intent on fomenting violence and escalating the conflict as it constituted an ‘illegal incursion” and ‘violated the sovereignty of Ukraine,” the trucks peacefully avoided any confrontation with Ukraine military forces by taking advantage of back roads.
Given the very urgent need to provide immediate medical relief and other life necessities to Ukraine citizens, what has been especially noteworthy during the ten day period in which the Russian convoy was stalled at the border is the extent to which the Kiev government and its EU/US/NATO partners would go to impede a convoy carrying humanitarian supplies. [...]
Perhaps the most egregious, the most obviously inexcusable misrepresentation of the facts, however, came from a conveniently-timed front page New York Times article entitled “Russians Open Fire in Ukraine NATO Reports.” whose job it is to be factually accurate and objectively represent all points of view.
With an irresponsible pen more committed to reiterating the Obama Administration’s public relations campaign than journalism, the New York Times again failed in its role as guardian of the truth allowing inaccurate exaggerations and entirely false anecdotes to masquerade as news.
While relying on the usual unnamed, unspecified vague “intelligence reports from several alliance members,” the Times categorically stated that “Russia … escalated tensions with Ukraine…, sending more than 200 trucks from a long-stalled aid convoy and, NATO said, conducting military operations on Ukrainian territory.”
Curiously, the Times article is a somewhat odd, overlapping mixture of reference to the humanitarian convoy interwoven in a story about an alleged Russian military incursion as if the existence of the convoy somehow confirms that a military intrusion has occurred while strangely suggesting that “200 trucks” had something to do with ‘conducting military operations’.
According to the Times “NATO officials said that the Russian military had moved artillery units inside Ukrainian territory in recent days and was using them to fire at Ukrainian forces” and yet the Times reporters did not cite any of NATO’s proof that such artillery movement had occurred or how NATO could confirm that the artillery was firing at Ukrainian forces. In other words, NATO could say that the Moon is made of blue cheese and the Times would run the news in their Food section.
The basis for the assertions were a series of quotes from their favorite prattler NATO Secretary General Rasmussen who insisted (despite a total lack of verification) that “There has been “a major escalation in Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine since mid-August, including the use of Russian forces” and “Russian artillery support — both cross-border and from within Ukraine — being employed against the Ukrainian armed forces.” Again, the amazingly-incurious Times reporters dutifully wrote whatever they were told with no independent confirmation or analysis.
So as the Times not only included unsubstantiated, circumstantial quotes as fact but Mr. Rasmussen’s acknowledgment that he “did not say how many Russian artillery pieces had moved into Ukraine or where they were located, but one [unidentified] Western official said the number of Russian-operated artillery units was “substantial.”
Until finally, buried at the end of the lengthy article “There were no signs of Russian military vehicles or any other indications of an armed escort by Russian troops.”
These are my discussions notes to The Executive Editor on the Word ‘Torture.’ A letter to Times readers from Dean Baquet, August 7, 2014.
“It’s time to celebrate that the newspaper of record is no longer covering for war criminals.” That’s what Andrew Sullivan, who has kept watch on this story, wrote Thursday. The news he was celebrating: the New York Times gave up the ghost on euphemisms for torture.
Alright, we celebrated. For an hour, maybe. Now let’s ask what came to an end with this strange announcement. Terms like “enhanced interrogation techniques,” “harsh tactics” and “brutal treatment” had been preferred usage at the Times in news stories by its own staff about the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody after 9/11. “Torture” was removed as a descriptor that the Times itself would employ. The decision to reverse that came Thursday in a brief note to readers from executive editor Dean Baquet.
From now on, The Times will use the word “torture” to describe incidents in which we know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information.
1. As Erik Wemple wrote, Baquet here “pledges that the newspaper will deploy the English language to describe things.” His paraphrase points up the strangest part for me: the Times felt it had to exit from the vernacular to stay on the responsible journalism track. This I find hard to accept.
The baseline in daily journalism is supposed to be plain English, spoken and written well. Non-exclusive language is the norm. The normal market is the common reader and the reader’s common sense, not a specialized class of knowers vibrating in the power circle. It’s not incumbent on an already understood term like torture to prove itself neutral enough for newswriters, but on the specialist’s construction (“enhanced interrogation”) to prove itself relevant in these proceedings at all.
A term like “enhanced interrogation techniques” starts with zero currency, extreme bloodlessness and dubious origins. A lot to overcome. In the years when the Times could not pick between it and torture — 2002 to 2014, approximately — it seemed that its editors and reporters were trying to re-clarify what had been made more opaque by their own avoid-the-label policy decision. Thus the appearance of do we have to spell it out for you? phrases like “brutal interrogation methods,” meant to signal: this was really, really bad. So bad you might think it amounts to…
Baquet tries to explain:
The word “torture” had a specialized legal meaning as well as a plain-English one. While the methods set off a national debate, the Justice Department insisted that the techniques did not rise to the legal definition of “torture.” The Times described what we knew of the program but avoided a label that was still in dispute, instead using terms like harsh or brutal interrogation methods.
So for the fruits of avoiding a label the Times becomes a force for fuzzing things up. Early in a public reckoning with acts of state torture it decides it cannot call it that. Wrong side of your Orwell there, mister editor. To report what happened you have to first commit to calling things by their right names. Somewhere in a fog it helped to create the Times lost sight of that. The editor’s note doesn’t explain how it happened. … Full article
Late Friday: Revised version of story now correctly states that “most” of the casualties in Gaza have been civilians, not “many.” Not sure if my widely linked and tweeted complaint (below) had any effect, but hope it did.
On the other hand, in another typical example that suggests the Times, perhaps, bowing to a complaint from IDF: A headline on another Rudoren story that once read: “A Boy At Play in Gaza, an Israeli Missile, a Mourning Family” has been changed to “A Boy at Play in Gaza, a Return to Warfare, a Family in Mourning.” It’s all the more odd because, in a rarity in a Rudoren story, she clearly says that an Israeli drone fired the missile. Then again, she’s in Gaza now. Perhaps her usual IDF spokesman source couldn’t reach her to insist on the usual, “Israel denies… might be Hamas rocket… looking into it….” Note: She does severely under-count the death toll of children, which the UN places at 440 tonight, while Rudoren simply has it at “more than 300.”
Earlier: Along with many others, we’ve critiqued Jodi Rudoren’s major piece for the NYT the other day which reflected Israel’s spin on a supposedly lower civilian body count in Gaza. At least then, Rudoren still admitted a majority of the dead were likely civilians (even if she rejected UN and other counts that put that percentage at 70 to 82% or more).
But in today’s piece, on the end of the ceasefire, written with the other half of the Times’ less-than-dynamic duo, Isabel Kershner, they actually write this: “Since the fighting began on July 8, more than 1,880 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, many of them civilians, and 67 have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.” Can you dig it? “Many” of them civilians, which could mean, oh, 100 or so, not the (even in Rudoren’s recent count) 1000 or more. Perhaps the IDF now claims less than half are civilians and Rudoren, with steno pad out, has relayed that without a journalistic filter.
And then then for the Israelis, “mostly soldiers”–when the tally is actually 64 soldiers and 3 civilians. Do the Times’ editors have no shame?
UN tonight updates: about 1,400 of 1,600 dead IDed in Gaza are civilians, with another 300 fighters or not yet IDed. That sure is “many” civilians.
As we noted earlier, the IDF (and needless to say, Rudoren’s) count is based on statistics showing that a large number of young males have died in the shelling. The only explanation? They were militants aiding Hamas and so were somehow precisely targeted as fair game by the Israelis. This, of course, ignores the reality captured by other reporters and videos: the majority of aid workers, medics, ambulance drivers, and others out in the streets trying to help people, dig out the rubble, or go for food and water are… young males. Who often then fall victim to new air strikes. I guess they also all double as Hamas rocketeers.
Stop Him Before He Kills Again!
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”
– George W. Bush
Those in the U.S. who are enthralled by relentless reports of the most demonic acts attributed to President Vladimir Putin and the rebel Eastern Ukrainian federalists a in the New York Times, NPR, ETC. would do well to look at the track record of the “reporters” dishing out this stuff. What they will find is a trail of deception that is piled with corpses of hundreds of thousands of innocents.
Principle among the purveyors of these bloodletting falsehoods is Michael R. Gordon, chief military correspondent for the NYT, serving over the decades as a trusty pipeline from the Pentagon to you. Although his name should be in profound disrepute, many opposed to war are unaware of his ignoble career or may have forgotten it. Most notoriously he is the co-author with Judith Miller of the front page NYT article planted by Dick Cheney’s minions, which claimed that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), relying on the idea that aluminum tubing being purchased by Iraq was to be used for purifying uranium.
Here is a quick reminder of that sorry episode so typical for the NYT. That article, entitled “Threats and Responses: The Iraqis; U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest For A-Bomb Parts,” ran on page one of the NYT on Sunday, September 8, 2002. That same day, with the newsprint barely dry, Cheney popped up on Meet the Press citing the piece and claiming that Saddam Hussein was on his way to making nukes. Appearances on the other Sunday propaganda shows were made that same day by Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Meyers (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and Condoleeza Rice who employed the infamous phrase used by Miller and Gordon, declaring with a straight face, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” On October 11, 2002, with an election staring it in the face, the Congress voted authorization for Bush to go to war. (That Constitutional requirement was unceremoniously dropped when Obama decided to make war on Libya. At least Bush took the time to lie to Congress.) As we know all too well now, the entire aluminum tube story was a lie, as was obvious at the time to anyone who read the article with the slightest care and as the Department of Energy and Department of State knew well at the time, as was later disclosed.
But unlike Judith Miller the well connected Gordon escaped punishment for these criminal fictions. And so he went on to peddle ever more lies on Iraq, being the first “journalist” to be embedded with U.S. forces of aggression and later championing the “surge” of his buddy, that great military strategist and legendary lover, David Petraeus. That bit of his career was documented in considerable detail in 2007 by the late Alex Cockburn. Cockburn summed it up thus:
“Gordon managed to dodge the fall-out from the WMD debacle he played a major part in contriving. For example, he co-wrote with Miller the infamous aluminum tubes-for-nukes story of September 8, 2002, that mightily assisted the administration in its push to war. In the latter part of 2006 he became the prime journalistic agitator for escalation in troop strength.
“On September 11, 2006, the Times ran a Gordon story under the headline, ‘Grim Outlook Seen in West Iraq Without More Troops and Aid’. Gordon cited a senior officer in Iraq saying more American troops were necessary to stabilize Anbar. A story on October 22 emphasized that “the sectarian violence [in Baghdad] would be far worse if not for the American efforts” There were of course plenty of Iraqis and some Americans Gordon could also have found, eager to say the exact opposite.”
The next year, 2007, Gordon went on to join the journalistic chorus in its effort to finger Iran as the source of new, more lethal roadside bombs used in Iraq which were called EFP’s (Explosively Formed Penetrators). This was another piece of Cheney propaganda designed to help satisfy his itch to launch a war on Iran. It was quickly exposed by another Cockburn, Andrew, Scott Horton and others. Fortunately this fiction thus exposed passed on quickly.
The point is that Gordon’s career has been not that of a reporter but a propagandist preparing us to accept the next moves of the U.S. Empire. So what is the intrepid Gordon up to these days? Unsurprisingly he is on the job covering the crisis in the Ukraine. He and the rest of the NYT are frantically peddling the wildest of lies about Ukraine, Russia and the ever evil Vlad. Here is a good example from the page one article by Gordon and others on July 18, entitled “U.S. Sees Evidence of Russian Links to Jet’s Downing.” It begins:
“The United States government has concluded that the passenger jet felled over Ukraine was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile launched from rebel-held territory and most likely provided by Russia to pro-Moscow separatists, officials said on Friday. While American officials are still investigating the chain of events leading to the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday, they pointed to a series of indicators of Russian involvement……” (Emphasis, jw)
Where is the evidence? The only evidence is that “officials said.” There is no indication of who the “officials” are or precisely what they said. Then there is the hedge phrase “most likely.” And finally Gordon and his co-authors tell us that the unnamed officials are “still investigating.” Finally although there is no conclusion, there are a “series of indicators.” (At the same time the Russian Ministry of Defense has released a lot of verifiable information on the incident, readily accessible on RT.com, whereas the U.S. has produced nothing other than some suspicious anecdotes on social media and a lot of speculation.) Not only should Gordon and his co-authors, Peter Baker and Mark Mazetti, the Judith Millers du jour, be summarily dismissed but also the “editors that let this trash appear as news rather than the unfounded propaganda that it is. (Mazetti and Baker should be leery of being Gordon’s accomplices. He may need a fall guy once again. Think Judith Miller, fellows.)
Let us turn to the notorious Miller and Gordon article of 2002 for comparison with Gordon’s piece on Ukraine. It begins:
“More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today. In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. American officials said….” (Emphasis, jw)
Remarkable similarity! Cookie cutter prevarication, one might say. “American officials” are ever on the job and ever anonymous. And Michael R. Gordon is front and center on page one as their ever faithful, ever unquestioning transmission belt. No one can possibly think that Gordon is in the business of truth. We would be fools to believe a word he says. He fooled us once (in fact, many times). Shame on us if we let him fool us once again. His lies are laced with blood and death. We should avert our gaze from them.
John V. Walsh can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com.
The NY Times reports a blockbuster story about the anti-Iran lobby group, United Against a Nuclear Iran. It’s an especially perfidious group supporting regime change, though it couches its approach in terms of opposing Iran’ nuclear program. Curiously, this is precisely the same way Israel’s far-right government disguises its own support for the violent overthrow of the Iranian government. Knowing that such a plan is not supported by the west including the Obama administration, they believe that they can paint Iran as enough of a threat to the world through it’s alleged plans to create nuclear weapons, that this will get them half-way to regime change.
UANI specializes in “outing” companies which allegedly violate UN sanctions against Iran. The Times article revealed that the companies are usually approached by an Israeli “fixer” with close ties to the Mossad. He’s Rami Ungar, owner of an Israeli company, Ray Shipping, who’s worth $500-million.
Ungar gives them an opportunity to renounce their supposed trade with Iran. Sometimes they’re extorted for a donation to UANI as well. Though the article doesn’t mention it, I’m certain that the Mossad intermediary probes for companies that will serve Israel’s interests in its fight against Iran. Companies doing business with Iran who are willing to become Mossad assets are worth their weight in gold, since the Iranians trust them and Israel can use such trust to sabotage whatever aspect of the Iranian military or commercial interests the sanctions-buster participates in.
What brought much of this to light is a lawsuit brought by one of the ship owners who was targeted by UANI. Instead of rolling over and playing dead, Victor Restis decided to sue UANI to find out what was going on inside the bowels of this organization. Restis, who denies all charges against him made by UANI, decided to take the battle to UANI. He’s demanding to see internal documents that would show who conveyed information to the group about him, what the information said, and how it was collected. His suit also implies that the Mossad directly funds UANI, another explosive charge.
What’s especially odd about the case is that the U.S. Justice Department has threatened to intervene in the case on behalf of UANI. Clearly, the real reason they’re willing to take such an unusual step is that they’re trying to protect the Mossad. It would not only embarrass our Israeli ally[sic], it might expose the covert methods and work product of Israeli intelligence. It might allow Iran to find out what Mossad knows about it and how.
This is so unseemly because the Obama administration is protecting a foreign spy agency which aggressively steals U.S. secrets when possible. We are also protecting the Mossad as it attempts to manipulate U.S. public opinion in a witch hunt against Iran, which is a country with whom we’re trying to negotiate a rapprochement. Here is how the U.S. explained its “interest” in the case:
Government lawyers said they had a “good faith basis to believe that certain information” would jeopardize law enforcement investigations, reveal investigative techniques or identify confidential sources if released.
If we take this literally, it means the U.S. government has been in cahoots with the Mossad in this campaign against Iranian commerce. Even if it means something less than that, it certainly means that we’re protecting the Mossad as one of our “confidential sources.” The other possible interpretation is that the U.S. is investigating UANI or the Mossad for their collusion together, though the article doesn’t point in that direction at all.
UANI, though it claims to be a bi-partisan group above the political fray, is heavily laden with neocon, Bush-era personnel and board members. It’s full of U.S. intelligence officials and diplomats known as especially friendly to Israel, including Dennis Ross. Meir Dagan is also listed as an advisor. UANI appears little more than an extension of Israeli intelligence based in the U.S.
As nuclear-armed America hurtles into a completely avoidable crash with nuclear-armed Russia over Ukraine, you can now see the dangers of “information warfare” when facts give way to propaganda and the press fails to act as an impartial arbiter.
In this sorry affair, one of the worst offenders of journalistic principles has been the New York Times, generally regarded as America’s premier newspaper. During the Ukraine crisis, the Times has been little more than a propaganda conveyor belt delivering what the U.S. government wants out via shoddy and biased reporting from the likes of Michael R. Gordon and David Herszenhorn.
The Times reached what was arguably a new low on Sunday when it accepted as flat fact the still unproven point of how Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down. The Times dropped all attribution despite what appear to be growing – rather than diminishing – doubts about Official Washington’s narrative that Ukrainian rebels shot down the plane by using a powerful Russian-supplied Buk missile battery.
U.S. and Ukrainian government officials began pushing this narrative immediately after the plane went down on July 17 killing 298 people onboard. But the only evidence has been citations of “social media” and the snippet of an intercepted phone call containing possibly confused comments by Ukrainian rebels after the crash, suggesting that some rebels initially believed they had shot the plane down but later reversed that judgment.
A major problem with this evidence is that it assumes the rebels – or for that matter the Ukrainian armed forces – operate with precise command and control when the reality is that the soldiers on both sides are not very professional and function in even a deeper fog of war than might exist in other circumstances.
But an even bigger core problem for the U.S. narrative is that it is virtually inconceivable that American intelligence did not have satellite and other surveillance on eastern Ukraine at the time of the shoot-down. Yet the U.S. government has been unable (or unwilling) to supply a single piece of imagery showing the Russians supplying a Buk anti-aircraft missile battery to the rebels; the rebels transporting the missiles around eastern Ukraine; the rebels firing the fateful missile that allegedly brought down the Malaysian airliner; or the rebels then returning the missiles to Russia.
To accept Official Washington’s certainty about what it “knows” happened, you would have to believe that American spy satellites – considered the best in the world – could not detect 16-feet-tall missiles during their odyssey around Russia and eastern Ukraine. If that is indeed the case, the U.S. taxpayers should demand their billions upon billions of dollars back.
However, the failure of U.S. intelligence to release its satellite images of Buk missile batteries in eastern Ukraine is the “dog-not-barking” evidence that this crucial evidence to support the U.S. government’s allegations doesn’t exist. Can anyone believe that if U.S. satellite images showed the missiles crossing the border, being deployed by the rebels and then returning to Russia, that those images would not have been immediately declassified and shown to the world? In this case, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence – absence of U.S. evidence.
The U.S. government’s case also must overcome public remarks by senior U.S. military personnel at variance with the Obama administration’s claims of certainty. For instance, the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reported last Saturday that Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, U.S. commander of NATO forces in Europe, said last month that “We have not seen any of the [Russian] air-defense vehicles across the border yet.”
Whitlock also reported that “Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said defense officials could not point to specific evidence that an SA-11 [Buk] surface-to-air missile system had been transported from Russia into eastern Ukraine.”
There’s also the possibility that a Ukrainian government missile – either from its own Buk missile batteries fired from the ground or from a warplane in the sky – brought down the Malaysian plane. I was told by one source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts that some satellite images suggest that the missile battery was under the control of Ukrainian government troops but that the conclusion was not definitive.
Plus, there were reports from eyewitnesses in the area of the crash that at least one Ukrainian jet fighter closed on the civilian plane shortly before it went down. The Russian government also has cited radar data supposedly showing Ukrainian fighters in the vicinity.
Need for a Real Inquiry
What all this means is that a serious and impartial investigation is needed to determine who was at fault and to apportion accountability. But that inquiry is still underway with no formal conclusions.
So, in terms of journalistic professionalism, a news organization should treat the mystery of who shot down Flight 17 with doubt. Surely, no serious journalist would jump to the conclusion based on the dubious claims made by one side in a dispute while the other side is adamant in its denials, especially with the stakes so high in a tense confrontation between two nuclear powers.
But that is exactly what the Times did in describing new U.S. plans to escalate the confrontation by possibly supplying tactical intelligence to the Ukrainian army so it can more effectively wage war against eastern Ukrainian rebels.
On Sunday, the Times wrote: “At the core of the debate, said several [U.S.] officials — who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policy deliberations are still in progress — is whether the American goal should be simply to shore up a Ukrainian government reeling from the separatist attacks, or to send a stern message to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin by aggressively helping Ukraine target the missiles Russia has provided. Those missiles have taken down at least five aircraft in the past 10 days, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.” [Emphasis added.]
The link provided by the Times’ online version of the story connects to an earlier Times’ story that attributed the accusations blaming Russia to U.S. “officials.” But this new story drops that attribution and simply accepts the claims as flat fact.
The danger of American “information warfare” that treats every development in the Ukraine crisis as an opportunity to blame Putin and ratchet up tensions with Russia has been apparent since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis – as has been the clear anti-Russian bias of the Times and virtually every other outlet of the mainstream U.S. news media. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Will Ukraine Be NYT’s Waterloo?”]
Since the start of the crisis last year, U.S. officials and American-funded non-governmental organizations have not only pushed a one-sided story but have been pushing a dangerous agenda, seeking to create a collision between the United States and Russia and, more personally, between President Barack Obama and President Putin.
The vehicle for this head-on collision between Russia and the United States was the internal political disagreement in Ukraine over whether elected President Viktor Yanukovych should have accepted harsh International Monetary Fund austerity demands as the price for associating with the European Union or agree to a more generous offer from Russia.
Angered last September when Putin helped Obama avert a planned U.S. bombing campaign against Syria, American neocons were at the forefront of this strategy. Their principal need was to destroy the Putin-Obama collaboration, which also was instrumental in achieving a breakthrough on the Iran nuclear dispute (while the neocons were hoping that the U.S. military might bomb Iran, too).
So, on Sept. 26, 2013, Carl Gershman, a leading neocon and longtime president of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy, took to the op-ed page of the neocon-flagship Washington Post to urge the U.S. government to push European “free trade” agreements on Ukraine and other former Soviet states and thus counter Moscow’s efforts to maintain close relations with those countries.
The ultimate goal, according to Gershman, was isolating and possibly toppling Putin in Russia with Ukraine the key piece on this global chessboard. “Ukraine is the biggest prize,” Gershman wrote. “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
To give the United States more leverage inside Ukraine, Gershman’s NED paid for scores of projects, including training “activists” and supporting “journalists.” Rather than let the Ukrainian political process sort out this disagreement, U.S. officials, such as neocon Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and neocon Sen. John McCain, also intervened to encourage increasingly disruptive demonstrations seeking to overthrow Yanukovych when he opted for the Russian deal over the EU-IMF offer.
Though much of the ensuing violence was instigated by neo-Nazi militias that had moved to the front of the anti-Yanukovych protests, the U.S. government and its complicit news media blamed every act of violence on Yanukovych and the police, including a still mysterious sniper attack that left both protesters and police dead.
On Feb. 21, Yanukovych denied ordering any shootings and tried to stem the violence by signing an agreement brokered by three European nations to reduce his powers and hold early elections so he could be voted out of office. He also complied with a demand from Vice President Joe Biden to pull back Ukrainian police. Then, the trap sprang shut.
Neo-Nazi militias overran government buildings and forced Yanukovych and his officials to flee for their lives. The State Department quickly endorsed the coup regime – hastily formed by the remnants of the parliament – as “legitimate.” Besides passing bills offensive to ethnic Russians in the east, one of the parliament’s top priorities was to enact the IMF austerity plan.
White Hats/Black Hats
Though the major U.S. news media was aware of these facts – and indeed you could sometimes detect the reality by reading between the lines of dispatches from the field – the overriding U.S. narrative was that the coup-makers were the “white hats” and Yanukovych along with Putin were the “black hats.” Across the U.S. media, Putin was mocked for riding on a horse shirtless and other indiscretions. For the U.S. media, it was all lots of fun, as was the idea of reprising the Cold War with Moscow.
When the people of Crimea – many of whom were ethnic Russians – voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, the U.S. media declared the move a Russian “invasion” although the Russian troops were already in Ukraine as part of an agreement with previous Ukrainian governments.
Every development that could be hyped was hyped. There was virtually no nuance in the news reporting, a lack of professionalism led by the New York Times. Yet, the solution to the crisis was always relatively obvious: a federalized system that would allow the ethnic Russians in the east a measure of self-governance and permit Ukraine to have cordial economic relations with both the EU and Russia.
But replacement President Petro Poroshenko – elected when a secession fight was already underway in the east – refused to negotiate with the ethnic Russian rebels who had rejected the ouster of Yanukovych. Sensing enough political support inside the U.S. government, Poroshenko opted for a military solution.
It was in that context of a massive Ukrainian government assault on the east that Russia stepped up its military assistance to the beleaguered rebels, including the apparent provision of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to fend off Kiev’s air superiority. The rebels did succeed in shooting down some Ukrainian warplanes flying at altitudes far below the 33,000 feet of the Malaysia Airlines plane.
For a plane at that height to be shot down required a more powerful system, like the Buk anti-aircraft batteries or an air-to-air missile fired by a fighter jet. Which brings us to the mystery of what happened on the afternoon of July 17 and why it is so important to let a serious investigation evaluate all the available evidence and not to have a rush to judgment.
But the idea of doing an investigation first and drawing conclusions second is a concept that, apparently, neither the U.S. government nor the New York Times accepts. They would prefer to start with the conclusion and then make a serious investigation irrelevant, one more casualty of information warfare.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Following are a few short questions for the New York Times in regard to a recent news report:
1. When are you going to cover the killing of Palestinians the same way you cover the killing of Israelis?
Israel’s killing of at least 8 civilians in one day was relegated to the second half of the story and not mentioned in the headline.
The murder of a father of three children, a staff member for Defense for Children International, got two sentences in the 17th paragraph. Israeli forces’ killing of a 17-year-old got one sentence in the 25th paragraph. The killing of a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old got a half sentence – between them – in the 27th paragraph.
2. When are you going to stop calling Palestinians who are fighting to protect their homeland “militants” and start calling them resistance fighters?
3. When are you going to stop framing this as “Israel against Hamas” rather than Israel against Gazans? Or Israel against Palestinians?
The vast majority of the over 800 people Israeli forces have killed in the last 19 days are civilians, many of them children. The vast majority of the over 5,000 injured are civilians, many of them children. Israel is, once again, destroying large amounts of civilian infrastructure: hospitals, schools, roads, family homes, etc.
4. When are you going to include crucial context on the American connection – that hard-pressed American taxpayers give Israel $8.5 million per day?
When are you going to mention that we have given tiny Israel far more of our tax money than to any other country – In total, over $233.7 billion (corrected for inflation). Currently, on average, 7,000 times more per capita than to others around the world.
5. When are you going to tell your readers that senior “objective” reporter Isabel Kershner was a British citizen who went to Israel to become an Israeli citizen? When are you going to divulge her family ties to the Israeli military?
6. When are you going to include the true context of the violence:
- Gaza is basically an open-air prison that Israel has been starving for over seven years (an Israeli official called it putting Palestinians “on a diet“),
- Rockets from Gaza began in April 2001 AFTER Israeli invasions and shelling of Gaza, that the vast majority of these rockets are small, home-made projects that cause no damage (and that this was the case long before the Iron Dome system was deployed),
- During the entire time the rockets have been used they have killed a total of approximately 30 Israelis, while during this same period Israeli forces have killed over 4,700 Gazans?
- The Jewish state was created through a war of ethnic cleansing, and that the allegedly “only democracy in the Middle East” has no constitution and has never declared its borders,
- Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are living on approximately 15 percent of their original land.
7. When are you going to give readers the facts without Israeli spin?
Alison Weir is president of the Council for the National Interest, executive director of If Americans Knew, and author of Against Our Better Judgment: How the US was used to create Israel.
Despite doubts within the U.S. intelligence community, the Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. news media are charging off toward another rush to judgment blaming Ukrainian rebels and the Russian government for the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane, much as occurred last summer regarding a still-mysterious sarin gas attack in Syria.
In both cases, rather than let independent investigators sort out the facts, President Barack Obama’s ever-aggressive State Department and the major U.S. media simply accepted that the designated villains of those two crises – Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine – were the guilty parties. Yet, some U.S. intelligence analysts dissented from both snap conventional wisdoms.
Regarding the shoot-down of the Malaysian jetliner on Thursday, I’m told that some CIA analysts cite U.S. satellite reconnaissance photos suggesting that the anti-aircraft missile that brought down Flight 17 was fired by Ukrainian troops from a government battery, not by ethnic Russian rebels who have been resisting the regime in Kiev since elected President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown on Feb. 22.
According to a source briefed on the tentative findings, the soldiers manning the battery appeared to be wearing Ukrainian uniforms and may have been drinking, since what looked like beer bottles were scattered around the site. But the source added that the information was still incomplete and the analysts did not rule out the possibility of rebel responsibility.
A contrary emphasis has been given to the Washington Post and other mainstream U.S. outlets. On Saturday, the Post reported that “on Friday, U.S. officials said a preliminary intelligence assessment indicated the airliner was blown up by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by the separatists.” But the objectivity of the Obama administration, which has staunchly supported the coup regime, is in question as are the precise reasons for its judgments.
Even before the Feb. 22 coup, senior administration officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, were openly encouraging protesters seeking the overthrow of Yanukovych. Nuland went so far as to pass out cookies to the demonstrators and discuss with Pyatt who should be appointed once Yanukovych was removed.
After Yanukovych and his officials were forced to flee in the face of mass protests and violent attacks by neo-Nazi militias, the State Department was quick to declare the new government “legitimate” and welcomed Nuland’s favorite, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as the new prime minister.
As events have unfolded since then, including Crimea’s secession to join Russia and bloody attacks directed at ethnic Russians in Odessa and elsewhere, the Obama administration has consistently taken the side of the Kiev regime and bashed Moscow.
And, since Thursday, when the Malaysian plane was shot down killing 298 people, the Ukrainian government and the Obama administration have pointed the finger of blame at the rebels and the Russian government, albeit without the benefit of a serious investigation that is only now beginning.
One of the administration’s points has been that the Buk anti-aircraft missile system, which was apparently used to shoot down the plane, was “Russian made.” But the point is rather silly since nearly all Ukrainian military weaponry is “Russian made.” Ukraine, after all, was part of the Soviet Union until 1991 and has continued to use mostly Russian military equipment.
It’s also not clear how the U.S. government ascertained that the missile was an SA-11 as opposed to other versions of the Buk missile system.
Slanting the Case
Virtually everything that U.S. officials have said appears designed to tilt suspicions toward the Russians and the rebels – and away from government forces. Referring ominously to the sophistication of the SA-11, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power declared, “We cannot rule out Russian technical assistance.” But that phrasing supposedly means that the administration can’t rule it in either.
Still, in reading between the lines of the mainstream U.S. press accounts, it’s possible to see where some of the gaps are regarding the supposed Russian hand in Thursday’s tragedy. For instance, the Post’s Craig Whitlock reported that Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, U.S. commander of NATO forces in Europe, said last month that “We have not seen any of the [Russian] air-defense vehicles across the border yet.”
Since these Buk missile systems are large and must be transported on trucks, it would be difficult to conceal their presence from U.S. aerial surveillance which has been concentrating intensely on the Ukraine-Russia border in recent months.
The Post also reported that “Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said defense officials could not point to specific evidence that an SA-11 surface-to-air missile system had been transported from Russia into eastern Ukraine.”
In other words, the mystery is still not solved. It may be that the rebels – facing heavy bombardment from the Ukrainian air force – convinced the Russians to provide more advanced anti-aircraft weapons than the shoulder-fired missiles that the rebels have used to bring down some Ukrainian military planes.
It’s possible, too, that a rebel detachment mistook the civilian airliner for a military plane or even that someone in the Russian military launched the fateful rocket at the plane heading toward Russian airspace.
But both the Russian government and the rebels dispute those scenarios. The rebels say they don’t have missiles that can reach the 33,000-foot altitude of the Malaysian airliner. Besides denying a hand in the tragedy, the Russians claim that the Ukrainian military did have Buk anti-aircraft systems in eastern Ukraine and that the radar of one battery was active on the day of the crash.
The Russian Defense Ministry stated that “The Russian equipment detected throughout July 17 the activity of a Kupol radar, deployed as part of a Buk-M1 battery near Styla [a village some 30 kilometers south of Donetsk],” according to an RT report.
So, the other alternative remains in play, that a Ukrainian military unit – possibly a poorly supervised bunch – fired the missile intentionally or by accident. Why the Ukrainian military would intentionally have aimed at a plane flying eastward toward Russia is hard to comprehend, however.
A Propaganda Replay?
But perhaps the larger point is that both the Obama administration and the U.S. press corps should stop this pattern of rushing to judgments. It’s as if they’re obsessed with waging “information warfare” – i.e., justifying hostilities toward some adversarial nation – rather than responsibly informing the American people.
We saw this phenomenon in 2002-03 as nearly the entire Washington press corps clambered onboard President George W. Bush’s propaganda bandwagon into an aggressive war against Iraq. That pattern almost repeated itself last summer when a similar rush to judgment occurred around a sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21.
Though the evidence was murky, there was a stampede to assume that the Assad government was behind the attack. While blaming the Syrian army, the U.S. press ignored the possibility that the attack was a provocation committed by radical jihadist rebels who were hoping that U.S. air power could turn the tide of the war in their favor.
Rather than carefully weigh the complex evidence, the State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry tried to spur President Obama into a quick decision to bomb Syrian government targets. Kerry delivered a belligerent speech on Aug. 30 and the administration released what it called a “Government Assessment” supposedly proving the case.
But this four-page white paper contained no verifiable evidence supporting its accusations and it soon became clear that the report had excluded dissents that some U.S. intelligence analysts would have attached to a more formal paper prepared by the intelligence community.
Despite the war hysteria then gripping Official Washington, President Obama rejected war at the last moment and – with the help of Russian President Putin – was able to negotiate a resolution of the crisis in which Assad surrendered Syria’s chemical weapons while still denying a hand in the sarin gas attack.
The mainstream U.S. press, especially the New York Times, and some non-governmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, continued pushing the theme of the Syrian government’s guilt. HRW and the Times teamed up for a major story that purported to show the flight paths of two sarin-laden missiles vectoring back to a Syrian military base 9.5 kilometers away.
For a time, this report was treated as the slam-dunk evidence proving the case against Assad, until it turned out that only one of the rockets carried sarin and the maximum range of the one that did have sarin was only about two kilometers.
Despite knowing these weaknesses in the case, President Obama stood by his State Department hawks by reading a speech to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24 in which he declared: “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.”
In watching Obama’s address, I was struck by how casually he lied. He knew better than almost anyone that some of his senior intelligence analysts were among those doubting the Syrian government’s guilt. Yet, he suggested that anyone who wasn’t onboard the propaganda train was crazy.
Since then, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed other evidence indicating that the sarin attack may indeed have been a rebel provocation meant to push Obama over the “red line” that he had drawn about not tolerating chemical weapons use.
Now, we are seeing a repeat performance in which Obama understands the doubts about the identity of who fired the missile that brought down the Malaysian airliner but is pushing the suspicions in a way designed to whip up animosity toward Russia and President Putin.
Obama may think this is a smart play because he can posture as tough when many of his political enemies portray him as weak. He also buys himself some P.R. protection in case it turns out that the ethnic Russian rebels and/or the Russian military do share the blame for the tragedy. He can claim to have been out front in making the accusations.
But there is a dangerous downside to creating a public hysteria about nuclear-armed Russia. As we have seen already in Ukraine, events can spiral out of control in unpredictable ways.
Assistant Secretary Nuland and other State Department hawks probably thought they were building their careers when they encouraged the Feb. 22 coup – and they may well be right about advancing their status in Official Washington at least. But they also thawed out long-frozen animosities between the “ethnically pure” Ukrainians in the west and the ethnic Russians in the east.
Those tensions – many dating back to World War II and before – have now become searing hatreds with hundreds of dead on both sides. The nasty, little Ukrainian civil war also made Thursday’s horror possible.
But even greater calamities could lie ahead if the State Department’s “anti-diplomats” succeed in reigniting the Cold War. The crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 should be a warning about the dangers of international brinkmanship.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Remember the appalling New York Times headline of July 10 over a story about a family of nine Palestinians killed by an Israeli strike as they watched the World Cup on the beach: “Missile at beachside Gaza cafe finds patrons poised for World Cup.” Could you imagine a more obfuscatory and misleading headline? Like the missile made the decision about where to strike on its own. I thought that was about as low as the NYT would sink.
But I was wrong. They have come up with an even more dissembling headline, one clearly crafted to avoid highlighting the embarrassing fact that Israel slaughtered four boys yesterday who were playing football in clear view on the beach.
The first subeditor does a reasonable job: “Four young boys killed playing on a Gaza beach”. It’s not exactly clear who did the killing, but at least it gives an idea of the story.
But then, it seems, the senior editors stepped in and demanded the headline be rewritten. Not to make the headline better or clearer, mind you. Simply to strip it of any relevance to the story; in fact, to strip it of any obvious meaning at all. Here it is: “Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Center of Mideast Strife.”
No missile strike, no blast, no deaths and injuries, no Israeli responsibility to be found in the headline. All of it whitewashed by that weasel word “strife”.
And look at the enormous burden being placed on the verb “drawn”. It leaves the reader wondering not why Israel targeted four children but why they were “drawn” to the beach in the first place. And further, why they were drawn – rather than thrust by Israel – into the “center of strife”. The clear implication is that they were pawns, lured to the beach and exploited for some nefarious end. Who could have done such luring and to what purpose?
The NYT editors are world-class wordsmiths. They understand the power of words and they are experts at using them to achieve the desired effect. There is nothing accidental about this headline. It is as precisely targeted as the Israeli missile that ended those four young boys’ lives.
She didn’t quite put it in those words, but it’s essentially what she’s saying: that the U.S. government would contact the New York Times and tell them that publishing this, that or the other story would ‘help the terrorists’. And that the New York Times would take those threats seriously and bring the story to a halt (even if they did eventually work out that the U.S. government’s intentions may not always have been entirely honourable).
Here’s a quote from an interview Abramson recently gave to Cosmopolitan :
‘Sometimes the CIA or the director of national intelligence or the NSA or the White House will call about a story . . . You hit the brakes, you hear the arguments, and it’s always a balancing act: the importance of the information to the public versus the claim of harming national security . . . Over time, the government too reflexively said to the Times, ‘you’re going to have blood on your hands if you publish X’ and because of the frequency of that, the government lost a little credibility . . . But you do listen and seriously worry . . . Editors are Americans too . . . We don’t want to help terrorists’.
Interesting, as well, that Abramson seems to be suggesting that being ‘against terrorists’ – or at least, people who the U.S. government claim are terrorists – is somehow an inherent part of being an American, like it’s a national religion or something.
Which for the political and media classes, I suppose it is – except when it comes to the terrorism of the U.S. government and its allies, in which case being ‘against terrorism’ is blasphemous.
A principal way that the New York Times and other leading U.S. news outlets engage in propaganda is by selecting which facts to include in a story and which ones to exclude, a process exemplified by a Times article on an interview in which the head of NATO excoriates Russia over Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen accused Russia of playing a “double game,” warned the West not to be fooled by the peaceful overtures of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and declared, “There’s no doubt that Russia is heavily engaged in destabilizing eastern Ukraine, and they continue their activities.”
However, since Rasmussen provided no evidence, his credibility would seem to be central to this story. And, on Wednesday, correspondents Mark Landler and Michael R. Gordon provided some background about Rasmussen, noting that he served as prime minister of Denmark before getting the NATO gig in 2009.
But what is excluded from the Times’ story is what the readers would need to evaluate Rasmussen’s honesty as well as his own ability to weigh evidence. Not mentioned by Landler and Gordon was the fact that this is the same Anders Fogh Rasmussen who swallowed President George W. Bush’s bogus case for invading Iraq hook, line and sinker.
Before the U.S. invasion in 2003, Rasmussen famously declared that “Iraq has WMDs. It is not something we think; it is something we know. Iraq has itself admitted that it has had mustard gas, nerve gas, anthrax, but Saddam won’t disclose. He won’t tell us where and how these weapons have been destroyed. We know this from the UN inspectors, so there is no doubt in my mind.”
Of course, pretty much everything that Rasmussen declared was wrong, but it succeeded in tricking the Danish parliament into voting to join Bush’s “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq. Yet, while Rasmussen was rewarded for his cooperation and his duplicity with the NATO job, a Danish intelligence analyst Frank S. Grevil was imprisoned for four months for disclosing documents that exposed Rasmussen’s deception.
While such an arrangement might now seem normal for Americans who have gotten use to prosecutions of truth-tellers who expose war crimes and immunity for liars who start unnecessary wars, Rasmussen’s falsehoods on Iraq – and his role in that criminal invasion – are facts that should have been provided to the Times’ readers as they judge whether to believe his current allegations about Russia and Ukraine.
But Landler and Gordon saw fit to protect the Fogh machine by leaving out his unpleasant history, all the better to sell the preferred narrative blaming the entire Ukraine crisis on Russia and Putin. [For more on the New York Times' journalistic malfeasance, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Will Ukraine Be NYT’s Waterloo?”]
Checkered Journalistic Careers
Michael Gordon’s bias in favor of U.S./NATO propaganda also has a long history. He co-wrote, with Judith Miller, the infamous aluminum tube story of Sept. 8, 2002, relying on U.S. intelligence sources and Iraqi defectors to frighten Americans with images of “mushroom clouds” if they didn’t support Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The timing played perfectly into the administration’s advertising “rollout” for the Iraq War.
The story turned out to be false and to have unfairly downplayed skeptics of the nuclear-centrifuge scenario. The aluminum tubes actually were meant for artillery. But the article provided a great impetus toward the Iraq War, which ended up killing nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Gordon’s co-author, Judith Miller, became the only U.S. journalist known to have lost a job over the reckless and shoddy reporting that contributed to the Iraq disaster. For his part, Gordon continued serving as a respected Pentagon correspondent.
Gordon’s name also showed up in a supporting role on the Times’ botched “vector analysis” story of Sept. 17, 2013, which nearly helped get the United States into another Mideast war, with Syria. That story traced the flight paths of two rockets, recovered in suburbs of Damascus after the Aug. 21 sarin gas attack, back to a Syrian military base 9.5 kilometers away.
The article became the “slam-dunk” evidence that the Syrian government was lying when it denied launching the sarin attack that killed several hundred people. However, like the aluminum tube story, the Times’ ”vector analysis” ignored contrary evidence, such as the unreliability of one azimuth from a rocket that landed in Moadamiya because it had struck a building in its descent. That rocket also was found to contain no sarin, so it’s inclusion in the vectoring of two sarin-laden rockets made no sense.
But the Times’ story ultimately fell apart when rocket scientists analyzed the one sarin-laden rocket that had landed in the Zamalka area and determined that it had a maximum range of about two kilometers, meaning that it could not have originated from the Syrian military base 9.5 kilometers away. C.J. Chivers, one of the co-authors of the article, waited until Dec. 28, 2013, to publish a halfhearted semi-retraction. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Backs Off Its Syria-Sarin Analysis.”]
Last April, Gordon was involved in another journalistic fiasco when he and two other correspondents fell for some grainy photographs peddled by the U.S. State Department to supposedly prove that Russian military personnel — who had been “clearly” photographed in Russia — turned up fighting in Ukraine.
However, two days later, the Times was forced to retract the story when it was discovered that a key photo that was supposedly taken in Russia was actually snapped in Ukraine, destroying the premise of the article. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Retracts Russian Photo Scoop.”]
Taking the Israeli Line
Landler, the Times’ White House correspondent, has been another propaganda specialist when it comes to framing foreign confrontations in ways favorable to the U.S. government and its allies. For instance, on March 5, 2012, he appeared on MSNBC and offered this account of Israeli-Iranian tensions:
“The Israelis feel the window for that [denying Iran the capability to build nuclear weapons] is closing and it’s closing really fast, and if they allow it to close without taking military action, they would find themselves in a position where the Iranians suddenly are in possession of nuclear weapons, which they’ve threatened already to use against Israel. As the Israelis always say, that’s an existential threat to Israel, which is something we don’t necessarily feel here in the United States.”
Landler’s account was hair-raising, claiming that Iranians have “threatened already to use [nuclear weapons] against Israel” which the Israelis understandably would perceive as an “existential threat.” But Landler’s statement simply wasn’t true. Iranian leaders continue to deny that they even want nuclear weapons, so it makes no sense that they would threaten to use them against Israel.
For instance, in February 2012, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who controls the armed forces, called “the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin” and said “the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.” He insisted that “the Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons.”
Further, the U.S. intelligence community reported in 2007 that Iran stopped research work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 and has not resumed that effort. That assessment has been reaffirmed periodically and remains the position of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
Beyond that, for Iran to threaten to “annihilate” Israel with its hypothetical nuclear weapons would represent one of the strangest threats in world history. Here is a nation without nuclear weapons – and whose top leader disavows any intent to get nuclear weapons – supposedly threatening to use those non-existent weapons against a nation which has a large stockpile of nuclear weapons.
So, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Times would spare its readers the relevant background on NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s credibility because otherwise the supposed “newspaper of record” might also be expected to explain why it continues to entrust sensitive stories to journalists who have a history of slanting information in ways that may advance their careers but misleads the public.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Israelis, not Palestinians, Excel at Vengeance
Shock and anger have engulfed Israeli and Palestinian societies since they learned last week of the barbarous murder of children from their communities. Hours after three Israeli teenagers’ bodies were located, long after their abduction, a Palestinian youth, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped, beaten and burned to death, apparently as revenge.
These horrifying events should serve as a lesson in the obscene futility of vengeance. As a relative of one of the murdered children observed: “There is no difference between blood and blood.”
Sadly, that was not the message implicit in much of last week’s coverage. On social media, a juxtaposition of pictures from the same day’s New York Times showed how easy it is to forget not only that our blood is the same but that grief is too.
A headline about Israelis’ “heartbreak” was illustrated movingly by the families of the three Israeli teenagers huddled together, overwhelmed by their loss. A report on the killing of 16-year-old Abu Khdeir, on the other hand, was accompanied by an image of masked youths throwing stones.
These contrasting depictions of mourning were entirely misleading. True, Palestinian youngsters have been violently protesting in Jerusalem and communities in Israel since Abu Khdeir was buried. But so have groups of Israeli Jews. They have rampaged through Jerusalem and parts of Israel, calling out “Death to the Arabs” and attacking anyone who looks Palestinian.
Nonetheless, Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, a US Jewish organisation that claims to fight bigotry, was peddling an equally divisive message. In the Huffington Post he wrote of a Palestinian “culture of hatred”.
According to Foxman, Palestinian and Israeli societies are fundamentally different. Palestinian discontent is “fanned and incited into hatred by a widespread, unfettered support for violence against Jews and Israel”.
He was echoing a sentiment common in Israel, and famously voiced in the late 1960s by the then prime minister, Golda Meir. She suggested that even harder than forgiving the Arab enemy for killing Israel’s sons would be “to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons”.
In a bout of similar self-righteousness, many Israelis berate Palestinian parents for putting their children in danger’s way by allowing them to throw stones at Israeli security forces. The implication is that Palestinians – as a result of either culture or religion – value life less than Israelis.
Strangely, Israelis rarely question the implication of the decision taken by one in 10 of their number to live in illegal colonies on stolen Palestinian land. The settlers choose to put themselves and their children on the front lines too, even though they have far more choices than Palestinians about where to live.
In fact, neither Israelis nor Palestinians can claim to be above a culture of hate. As long as Israel’s belligerent occupation continues, their lives together in one small patch of the Middle East will continue to be predicated on bouts of violent confrontation.
But that does not mean Israeli and Palestinian culpability is equal. The reality is that Israelis, unlike Palestinians, have a sovereign state that represents them and protects them with a strong army.
Last week, the Israeli army announced that it had arrested several soldiers who posted online photographs of themselves vowing revenge against “Arabs” – part of a flood of calls for vengeance on ¬Hebrew social media. The arrests played well with Israel’s image as a country that enforces the rule of law, but they concealed deeper truths.
The first is that the Israelis thirsting for reprisals are simply echoing their politicians and religious leaders whose statements for vengeance surpassed even the ugly grandstanding of Hamas, which had praised the Israeli teenagers’ abduction.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the way, citing a famous line of Hebrew poetry: “The devil himself has not yet created vengeance for the blood of a small child.” His economics minister, Naftali Bennett, urged Israel to “go mad”, while a former legislator vowed that Israel would turn Ramadan into a “month of darkness”. An influential and supposedly moderate rabbi hoped for “an army of avengers”.
Last week, left wing Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv to castigate the Netanyahu government for “incitement to violence”. But even this underestimated the problem.
Israeli leaders’ threats are not simply stoking an ugly mood on the street. The huge muscle of the Israeli security apparatus is flexing at their behest too. That was given graphic illustration in video footage of armed police in Jerusalem relentlessly kicking and punching a child – a 15-year-old American relative of Abu Khdeir – as he lay cuffed and helpless on the ground.
The cabinet is plotting a more subtle revenge. It plans to build new settlements – violence against Palestinian life on the little slivers of territory left to them – specifically to honour the three teenagers. Guarded by the army, settlers have already set up a new encampment in the West Bank.
The army, meanwhile, launched a series of strikes on Gaza, culminating in a new large-scale attack dubbed Operation Protective Edge. It has also revived a policy of demolishing the homes of relatives of Palestinian terror suspects. Backed by the courts, soldiers blew up the family homes of two men it accused of being behind the teenagers’ abduction.
As Human Rights Watch warned, Israel’s recent actions – mass arrests; armed raids; the killing of Palestinians, including minors; lockdowns of cities, house demolitions; and air strikes – amounted to “collective punishment”, international law’s euphemism for revenge, against Palestinians.
In the face of the enduring violence of Israel’s occupation, and the licence it provides soldiers to humiliate and oppress, ordinary Palestinians have a stark choice: to submit or resist. Ordinary Israelis, on the other hand, do not need to seek revenge on their own account. The Israeli state, military and courts are there every day doing it for them.