Thousands of Bahraini protesters have gathered outside the building of the interior ministry in the capital, demanding the release of political prisoners.
Chanting anti-government slogans on Wednesday, the protesters in Manama marched to Pearl Square — the epicenter of the movement — demanding the ruling family to step down.
As the popular uprising entered its 17th day in Bahrain, the opposition groups in the Persian Gulf kingdom called for more private and public sector strikes and more rallies to oust the government.
They also urged protesters to block all main roads and take over government buildings to force the Sunni-dominated regime to respond to their demands.
Protesters demand major political reforms, including the establishment of a “real constitutional monarchy,” as well as the resignation of the government, which they hold responsible for the killing of peaceful demonstrators.
Many protesters, mainly Shias, have also called for an end to the rule of Al Khalifa dynasty which has been in power the country for over two centuries.
“230 years is enough, Al Khalifa leave,” read a banner, referring to the Sunni royal family which rules Bahrain.
Meanwhile, many protesters have vowed to continue to camp out in Pearl Square and have refused to enter talks with the government until their demands are met.
Last week, in an attempt to contain massive anti-government demonstrations, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa pardoned 23 political prisoners and ventured a minor cabinet reshuffle.
But the measures seem not to have been enough for the opposition who say hundreds of political activists are still in Bahraini jails, and for thousands of anti-government protesters who are still out, demanding the ruling family to step down.
Raymond Davis’s murder trial has begun, while the US continues to press for his repatriation, though now much more circumspectly. Whatever the outcome of these proceedings, this affair has already had a significant impact on the US-Pakistan relationship, and may yet do so also on Pakistan’s internal situation.
I had concluded my previous thread on the subject by advancing the hypothesis (triggered by a couple of useful pointers from TTG and MTJY) that Davis was working for a JSOC Special Mission Unit whose task related to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. This hypothesis has acquired some legs if one considers the effects this event has had, and is having. All of them were set off when it caused the balance of power in the Pakistani establishment to tilt away from the US-friendly faction towards the Pakistan-friendly one (the bulk of this establishment is, of course, just self-friendly).
I use ‘US-friendly’ as a polite term for those persons who act in conformity with US interests without worrying too much whether these actions are also in Pakistan’s interests. These persons have been persuaded to adopt this ‘friendly’ stance through the usual inducements, whether in cash or kind. It is conceivable that, in the case of some persons occupying sensitive positions (such as in the ISI), it may, regrettably, have been necessary to use some of the less savoury options available to intelligence services. At the top of the US-friendly faction is, of course, President Zardari, followed closely by his interior minister, Rahman Malik. This faction obviously has some representation in the upper reaches of the ISI.
The critical factor in this shift of the balance of power was Gen Kayani, the army chief, and the most powerful figure in the establishment. The chain-smoking, golf-playing general is, without any doubt, Pakistan-friendly, but he is also a very cautious person, loath to rock the boat unless really necessary. It was his passivity that enabled the US-friendly faction to prevail, and allowed Davis and his companions to establish themselves and carry on doing whatever they were up to (undoubtedly causing much grief and anguish among many ISI stalwarts, without them being able to do much about it).
The JSOC influx into Pakistan occurred in two phases. The first was the ‘official’ one, in which a couple of hundred personnel came in as trainers for the Pakistan army’s SSG (its special forces) and the paramilitary Frontier Corps involved in operations against insurgents in the tribal areas. It appears they also acted as advisers, and sometimes participated in operations. A hidden part of this phase, apparently with official approval (this was in Musharraf’s time), was the insertion of Blackwater operatives (presumably on contract to JSOC), working for a Pakistani company, to carry out counter-terrorism operations (plus, of course, anything else they may have been tasked to do by JSOC). This phase was described by Jeremy Scahill in a recent article.
The second phase of the JSOC influx occurred after the US decided to undertake a large, long-term aid program for Pakistan. The US applied for visas for a large number of staff and support personnel to manage the program. The ISI insisted on security vetting all visa applicants, which held up the process. The US exerted huge pressure on the government, warning that the aid program would be adversely affected. The government, in turn, pressured the military to back off, until, finally, Kayani (tied up in the campaigns against insurgents in the tribal areas) agreed. The ambassador in Washington (who represents Zardari rather than Pakistan, and is as US-friendly as it is possible to be without openly displaying one’s US passport) opened the spigot, and visas flowed out like water. The Interior Ministry currently lists over 400 ‘special Americans’ (as it cutely calls them), but there may well be more. As this media report indicates, they are all believed to be JSOC personnel or contractors.
The ‘official’ version of what they are doing is gathering counter-terrorism intelligence. But the ISI rank and file knew otherwise; they just couldn’t get the dominant US-friendly brass to do anything about it. Until Raymond Davis gunned down a couple of ISI auxiliaries on the streets of Lahore, and the US publicly came down like a ton of bricks to get him freed pronto, now, yesterday. That got Gen Kayani’s attention. And when he was told what Davis and his colleagues were really up to, that got action. For Kayani and the military establishment, the country’s nukes are the definitive red line.
Kayani’s stance, and the widespread public anger at the killings, caused the US-friendly faction to go to ground. The US-friendly foreign minister (his son had been one of Sen Kerry’s congressional aides until the media found out) suddenly discovered religion, and refused to certify Davis’s diplomatic immunity, losing his job for his pains. The ISI demanded the US provide a listing of all its agents in Pakistan. Several of them hurriedly left the country; one of them was arrested for an expired visa. On 23 February, Kayani held a meeting in Muscat, Oman, with Mullen, Mattis, Petraeus, and, significantly, Olson, chief of the Special Operations Command (under which JSOC works). My guess is that Kayani called the meeting to demand that JSOC back off the Pakistani nukes. After it, a US official said the discussion was “very candid”.
If Kayani and his fellow generals are really upset about the way in which this US-friendly government has facilitated JSOC’s activities inside Pakistan, and what it might do in the future, they may decide to effect a change. If that were to happen, the most likely scenario (because it would be the least messy) would be an internal party coup in which the current prime minister would be voted out and replaced, most likely by the born-again former foreign minister. If that can’t be engineered, then there are other messier ways of achieving the same goal; it would depend on how far Kayani decided to go.
We don’t know what caused Raymond Davis to pull out his Glock (or was it the Beretta?) and empty its magazine, but his act certainly seems to have started a chain of events that may well have significant consequences, changing many more lives than just those of the poor sods whom he gunned down, and their families.
(Note: As I have said before, I do not have any ‘sources’. This piece, like other previous ones, consists entirely of deductions and speculation based on the public record).
© FB Ali
As workers all over the U.S. become inspired by the massive demonstrations in Wisconsin, a dangerous idea is being voiced by some working-class allies that could unravel it all. The threat lies in the following argument: to protect the bargaining rights of unions, state and city workers must be prepared to make concessions over wages, benefits, etc. This line of reasoning is not only false to the core, it’s suicidal.
Take for example a recent New York Times article on the battle in Wisconsin:
“It is not yet clear whether Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin will succeed in his quest to strip public employee unions of most of their bargaining rights. But by simply pressing the issue, he has already won major concessions that would have been unthinkable just a month ago.”
This is extraordinary: The Governor makes a radically anti-union threat, and some union leaders are ready to give him EVERYTHING, just not the kitchen sink.
The article continues:
“Some of Wisconsin’s major public sector unions, faced with what they see as a threat to their existence, have decided to accept concessions that they had been vigorously fighting…translating into a pay cut of around 7 percent…But Mr. Walker is not settling for that. He said that those concessions were “an interesting development, because a week ago they said that’s not acceptable.” (February 28, 2011).
So the anti-union Governor is making the unacceptable acceptable, merely by voicing a threat. If this precedent were established, what future do unions have? Especially when one considers that state budget deficits are projected to continue for years.
Imagine the following scenario: A war is declared by a foreign army and the defending General responds by announcing to the invaders, “I will only fight one battle to preserve this particular parcel of land (bargaining rights), and will wave the white flag over all other territory (wages, benefits, etc.).
Of course the foreign army would conclude “the enemy is already defeated!” And fight without mercy for total victory.
This is the situation in Wisconsin and other states. War has been declared on unions and some labor leaders are pretending that they can offer concessions to appease their attackers. Unfortunately, this strategy has failed for years, and is in fact why the right wing felt confident enough to officially declare war.
Every time unions agree to lower wages and benefits — as they have been doing for years — they weaken themselves internally, thus opening the way for further, deeper attacks. The right-wing attack on bargaining rights did not appear from nowhere; it was the result of years of concessionary bargaining, which inevitably leads to worker demoralization within the union. An army which concedes every battle will be composed of demoralized soldiers.
The union policy of concessionary bargaining is the policy of committing slow suicide, and after years of providing their executioners with nooses, some labor leaders act stunned when their hanging is announced. They believed that they could befriend the hangman, as long as they didn’t create too much trouble by aggressive protesting or well-planned strikes.
But hangmen are hangmen, and they must be treated accordingly.
Labor unions must mobilize the entire community in every state to demand “No Concessions” for all public workers. The fight to save collective bargaining can only be won if workers believe that collective bargaining will save their wages and benefits; the two cannot be separated.
Contrary to what the mainstream media and politicians constantly tells us, the general public would support such a fight. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that “Those surveyed said they opposed, 56 percent to 37 percent, cutting the pay or benefits of public employees to reduce deficits.” (March 1, 2011).
The battle in Wisconsin proves that private-sector workers do not hate their public-sector brothers and sisters, they passionately support them.
How can labor unions mobilize the general public towards a pro-worker solution to the state budget deficits? By exposing another media lie: that Americans are against ALL tax increases. In fact, the same pollsters discovered in 2009 that 74 percent of respondents “support higher taxes on the rich.” (April 6, 2009).
Labor unions must place this demand at the head of their campaign to save collective bargaining rights and workers wages and benefits. Workers will be further encouraged to fight for their wages and benefits when they see that there is a solution to the budget crisis.
Rose Ann DeMoro of National Nurses United agrees:
“So it’s time for all of us to say it loud: No More Cuts in Public Sector Pay, Pensions, or Health Benefits; Balance Budgets By Closing Corporate Tax Loopholes, Restoring Fair Share Taxes on Corporations and Wealthy Individuals; Guarantee Retirement Security and Healthcare for All.”
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Muammar Gaddafi has several times claimed that he’s up against a rebellion in which his opponents are high on hallucinogenic drugs. I guess he never saw this or this. Tom Friedman, on the other hand, presents what can only be described as a hallucinogenic view of the revolution in Egypt — a psychedelic vision of young Egyptians inspired by Obama, Israeli democracy, Google Earth, the Beijing Olympics, and Palestinian so-called Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The New York Times columnist is clearly high on something. Fortunately, Sarah Carr was able to catch up with him before the drug wore off and persuaded Friedman to reveal more.
Future historians will long puzzle over how I was given an international platform to freely pontificate on the Arab people and be remunerated handsomely for it. It is true that I am not the only person in the world who formulates dubious theories based on scant or no evidence which I then harangue people with. Other people do it. They are called taxi drivers. But they are not as rich as me and haven’t been awarded three Pulitizer Prizes.
Since I’ve been here in Egypt I’ve been putting together a list of “the-absolutely-irrelevant forces” that have captured the captive Arab mind and ignited the simmering coals of the instant garden BBQ that is the Middle East. You might ask why, since I am in Egypt, I don’t ask an Egyptian – possibly two Egyptians – about what inspired them to completely ignore my theories on the Arab peoples and take to the streets. The answer is this: I am Thomas Friedman and I write a column in the New York Times.
I started my last extremely important column with an introduction in which I listed tyranny, rising food prices, youth unemployment and social media as the “big causes”. Rather than just stop there, I did a Google “surprise me” search and chose five of the random results for my special “mix of forces” which inspired the Arab mass revolts. These included Barack Obama, Google Earth and the Beijing Olympics.
The inherent wrongdoing and corruption created around the world by the American empire is sometimes exemplified by a single event. Such is the case of Raymond Davis, an American who killed two Pakistanis.
On January 27 Davis was driving in Lahore when two Pakistanis on a motorbike pulled along side his car. Davis claims that one of the men was armed, and fearing a kidnapping, he shot them both in self defense. A mysterious group of Americans in another vehicle went to rescue Davis from a gathering crowd, and in so doing ran over and killed a third Pakistani.
These facts are not in dispute, but all else is. The United States government first refused to confirm Davis’ identity and then immediately claimed that he was a diplomat and as such had immunity from foreign prosecution. President Obama referred to him as “our diplomat in Pakistan” which was a complete and bald-faced lie.
After nearly one month of claiming that a man driving a private rented car with GPS, guns, maps and telescopes was a diplomat, the United States finally confessed to what anyone with common sense had already figured out. Davis is a CIA agent and probably an employee of Xe, once known as Blackwater. Xe is the private security firm which contracts with the United States government to send mercenaries all over the world to do America’s bidding.
The confession came about only because the foreign media, such as the British newspaper em>The Guardian, reported on Davis’ true status. The American media then began reporting what their overseas colleagues had already said.
But the corporate media in this country were not merely following the lead of the Guardian and others. They were well aware that Davis was a CIA agent because their own government confirmed the fact to them and asked them to keep repeating the same lies. The Associated Press, the New York Times and others very dutifully did what their government told them to do and they have now admitted as much.
The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk.”
That assertion too was a lie. Pakistani officials explained that Davis’ CIA role was well known in their country. He was safely in their custody and the open secret of his identity made the claims of danger entirely false.
Not only did the American government lie about Davis and his CIA ties and bully the media into spreading those lies, but they also mislead the public on what diplomatic immunity does and does not entail. The lies began at the very top, with the president’s own words.
With respect to Mr. Davis, our diplomat in Pakistan, we’ve got a very simple principle here that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future. And that is if — if our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country’s local prosecution.”
The relevant portion of the Vienna Convention states clearly that Pakistan is within its rights in holding Davis. “Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority.”
So the facts should not be in dispute. Davis is not entitled to immunity because he isn’t a consular official or diplomat of any sort. He was never in danger, and the media should have known that as well.
Instead, for nearly one month the American people have been fed a steady stream of lies from their government, who then intimidate the press into repeating those falsehoods. Once again we see that our ability to independently gather information important to us as citizens is extremely compromised.
Pakistanis, like millions of people around the globe, live under the rule of governments who live under the rule of the United States. Their sovereignty is an illusion and their people know it. Military aid flows to those at the top, as it did [and still does] in Egypt, creating a corrupt plutocracy beholden to their American masters instead of to their own people.
Pakistan has to contend with killer drones and killer Americans. We will probably never know the circumstances of the Davis killings but we do know that Pakistan will be pressured into releasing him without trial, and the Pakistani people will be angry and hate all Americans more than they do already.
So it goes with all empires. Their imperatives create many Raymond Davises and cause death and hatred all over the globe. It doesn’t change because the president is a Democrat instead of a Republican and it ends only when subject peoples demand that it does. Hopefully the Egyptian model can work for Pakistan as well.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com.
Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com
NABLUS — A herder village east of Nablus was demolished by Israel’s Civil Administration for the sixth time on Wednesday, a Palestinian official confirmed.
Early Wednesday morning, 13 Israeli patrol cars and three military bulldozers arrived in the hamlet of Khirbet Tana, and demolished the tents and sheds recently re-built by residents, Ghassan Doughlas, the Fatah official charged with monitoring settlement activity in the northern West Bank, told Ma’an.
According to AFP, there were 20 structures taken down.
On a recent visit to the hamlet, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Maxwell Gaylard said of the fourth demolition, that “under international law, Israel, as the occupying power in the oPt [occupied Palestinian territories], is prohibited from destroying property belonging to individuals or communities except when absolutely required by military operations.”
Gaylard had condemned the demolition, saying “if the authorities ultimately responsible for these demolitions could see the devastating impact on vulnerable Palestinian communities, they might reflect upon the inhumanity of their actions.”
On the occasion of the sixth demolition, Doughlas said he considered the act a “clear assault on Palestinian citizens’ rights,” and noted the families living in the hamlet, who subsist on herding livestock and animal husbandry, were determined to “rebuild what was demolished.”
Khirbet Tana is one of two Bedouin hamlets that have been targeted over the past months, with a second south of Hebron, Amniyr, demolished in mid-February. In both cases, residents have been herding in the area for years, and say they have nowhere else to go. In the case of Amniyr, residents said settler harassment had driven them from all other traditional grazing grounds.
On Feb. 9, 17 and 20, tents donated to residents of Khirbet Tana by the International Red Cross and the Palestinian Authority were destroyed by Israeli forces.
A representative of Israel’s Civil Administration said that the Feb. 17 demolitions were a part of “routine law enforcement activity against illegal building,” and confirmed that approximately 19 buildings were destroyed.
The Civil Administration could not be immediately reached for comment on the latest demolition on Wednesday.
The Change We Still Need
When speaking about the Arab uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond, the language used here in the US is euphoric. Expressions like “nothing will ever be the same again” and “the existing order is being swept away” are common. But when the conversation comes home, the exuberant rhetoric is pushed aside and hard-nosed practicality becomes the order of the day. “The president had no choice,” the pundits said. “He had to veto. Republicans would have pounced on him and the pro-Israel crowd would have made his life miserable.” This is the accepted wisdom.
It is, of course, always easier to discuss what other countries and their leaders must do than it is to face up to the hard realities of what must be done in one’s own backyard. At the same time, though, it is a bit brazen, and even bizarre, that we can be so blind to the stark contradiction between what we advocate for others and what we fail to do for ourselves. But this is what is taking place.
Right now in commentaries the Bush crowd is crowing, “We were right”, finding new justification in their past promotion of democracy — ignoring, of course, the utter hypocrisy of their overall approach to the region. They gave lip-service to democracy, to be sure, but then they led America into two deadly and failed wars (both of which they wrongly projected would usher in democratic change); turned a blind eye as Israel ravaged Palestinians and the Lebanese; and instituted the wide-spread use of profiling, prolonged detentions without due process, and prisoner abuse, all of which they pressured Arab allies to support.
The net result was a roiling of Arab public opinion and a delegitimising of some Arab leaders who had befriended America, making them more vulnerable and less receptive to proceed on the path of reform. Then, after strong electoral performances by hardline religious parties in several countries, the Bush administration, not liking the outcome, shelved their democracy rhetoric.
More disturbing than this irritatingly predictable neo-conservative effort to rewrite history and hijack the Arab uprising is the fact that many liberals can find no more creative response to these Arab uprisings than to become latter-day “neo-cons” themselves.
All this posturing ignores several uncomfortable truths. America’s favourable ratings across the Arab world are back to Bush- era lows and the post-Cairo optimism that America would change its approach to the region has all but evaporated. America, it bears repeating, is not unpopular amongst many Arabs because we have supported their leaders; rather it is some Arab leaders who have become unpopular because they have supported our policies. We were, in a real sense, not in the game, having long ago dealt ourselves out. In their efforts to make change in their own countries, Tunisians and Egyptians weren’t looking to us. This was their movement, not ours.
There is a real danger that in this moment of crisis we will either learn the wrong lessons, or learn no lessons at all. What is required now is to recognise the degree to which our failed policies of the past have alienated Arab public opinion, undercut our stated values, and put at risk those who sought to be our friends.
At a critical moment in the midst of the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King delivered his “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam”. In this speech he said “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values … A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of our past and present policies.” This challenge is as true today as it was then.
Unless our political leaders can put aside “politics as usual” and end their callous disregard for the suffering of Palestinians; unless leaders are willing to challenge their political fears and do what is right, instead of what is convenient; unless we can stand up against the Islamophobes who threaten to tear apart the fabric of our nation; unless we can restore our commitment to fundamental freedoms and constitutional protections; and unless we can stop ignoring Arab concerns and truly listen to what Arab voices are telling us about their needs and aspirations, we will continue to operate clumsily, and at times brutally, on the wrong side of history.
As Arabs seek change at home, the challenge we face is to question how we can bring real change to America and to the way America deals with the Arab world and its people. This is what Barack Obama promised when he said that he would lead the effort to “change Washington” and, in the process, “change America and change the world”. This is still the change we need. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet.
James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute.
“This is a massacre,” the frantic Libyan woman, speaking by telephone while cowering in her apartment in Tripoli, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“I hope you know that people around the world are watching and praying and wanting to do something,” Anderson told her, as if he were a stage prompter hinting at a performer’s next line. Whether or not she had been given a copy of the script, the caller performed as expected: “[T]he first step [is to] make Libya a no-fly zone. If you make Libya a no-fly zone, no more mercenaries can come in…. There needs to be action. How much more waiting, how much more watching, how much more people dying?”
It’s entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that the subject of Cooper’s interview was simply a terrified but resolute woman who risked her life to describe the violence devouring her country amid the death throes of Khadaffy’s police state.
It’s likewise possible that her call for international action to impose a no-fly zone was a desperate plea from a victim, rather than an act of media ventriloquism in which an anonymous figure endorsed the first plank of a military campaign proposed by the same neo-conservative kriegsbund that manipulated us into Iraq.
Surely it was a coincidence that the “Cry in the Night” from Libya was echoed on the same network a few nights later by Iraq war architect, former World Bank president, and accused war criminal Paul Wolfowitz, who several days prior to Cooper’s dramatic broadcast called for a NATO-enforced “no fly zone” over Libya.
In fact, the day following that interview, an ad hoc group calling itself the Foreign Policy Initiative, which coalesced from the remnants of the Project for a New American Century, published an “open letter” to Mr. Obama demanding military intervention – beginning with a no-fly zone – in Libya. The neo-con framework for managing the Libyan crisis would create a regional protectorate administered by NATO on behalf of the “international community.” This would nullify any effort on the part of Libyans, Egyptians, Tunisians, and others to achieve true independence.
On previous experience with media campaigns on behalf of humanitarian conquest, my incurable cynicism leads me to hear in Cooper’s “Cry in the Night” a faint but unmistakable echo of the tearful, palpably earnest testimony of “Nayirah” – the wide-eyed Kuwaiti girl who, using an assumed name to “protect her family,” described what had befallen her country in the wake of the Iraqi invasion.
Bravely composing herself as she recounted horrors no human eyes should behold, the precociously self-possessed 15-year-old volunteer nurse related to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus how Iraqi soldiers stormed into the al-Addan Hospital, tore newborn infants from incubators, and hurled them to the floor. A short time later this testimony was “confirmed” by others who offered similarly anguished testimony before the UN Security Council.
During the three-month build-up to the January 1991 attack on Baghdad, the image of Kuwaiti “incubator babies” was endlessly recycled as a talking point in media interviews, presidential speeches, and debates in Congress and the UN. A post-war opinion survey found that the story of the “incubator babies” was the single most potent weapon deployed by the Bush administration in its campaign to build public support for the attack on Iraq.
This atrocity account was particularly effective in overcoming the skepticism of people espousing a progressive point of view.
“A pacifist by nature, my brother was not in a peaceful mood that day,” recalled Christian Science Monitor columnist Tom Regan, describing his sibling’s reaction to “Nayirah’s” testimony. “We’ve got to go and get Saddam Hussein – now,” Regan’s brother insisted.
“I completely understood his feelings,” Regan pointed out. After all, “who could countenance such brutality? The news of the slaughter had come at a key moment in the deliberations about whether the U.S. would invade Iraq. Those who watched the non-stop debates on TV saw that many of those who had previously wavered on the issue had been turned into warriors by this shocking incident. Too bad it never happened.”
“Nayirah” was not a traumatized ingénue who had witnessed an act of barbarism worthy of the Einsatzgruppen; she was actually the daughter of Saud Nasi al-Sabah, Kuwait’s ambassador to the United States (and a member of the emirate’s royal family). Her script had been written by the Washington-based PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which – under the supervision of former Bush administration Chief of Staff Craig Fuller – had put together a campaign to build public support for the impending war.
It wasn’t difficult to convince the public that Saddam was a hideous thug. Selling the idea of a major war in the Middle East was a more daunting proposition. In late 1990, Hal Steward, a retired Army propaganda officer, defined the problem for the administration: “If and when the shooting starts, reporters will begin to wonder why American soldiers are dying for oil-rich sheiks. The U.S. military had better get cracking to come up with a public relations plan that will supply the answers the public can accept.”
The image of newborn Kuwaiti infants being ripped from incubators was an updated riff on a classic war propaganda theme performed by British intelligence – and its American fellow travelers – in their efforts to provoke U.S. intervention in World War I.
The WWI-era equivalent of the Kuwaiti “incubator babies” were the Belgian infants who were supposedly spitted on bayonets by hairy-knuckled Huns in Pickelhaube helmets. German soldiers did this to amuse themselves once they could no longer sate their prurient interests by raping Belgian women and then amputating their breasts. So the American public was told, in all seriousness, by people working on behalf of a secretive British propaganda committee headed by Charles Masterman.
In 1915, an official Commission headed by Viscount James Bryce, a notable British historian, “verified” those atrocity stories without naming a specific witness or victim. This didn’t satisfy Clarence Darrow, who offered a reward of $1,000 to anyone who could produce a Belgian or French victim who had been mutilated by German troops. That bounty went unclaimed.
“After the war,” recounts Thomas Fleming in his book Illusion of Victory, “historians who sought to examine the documentation for Bryce’s stories were told that the files had mysteriously disappeared. This blatant evasion prompted most historians to dismiss 99 percent of Bryce’s atrocities as fabrications.”
War emancipates every base and repulsive impulse to which fallen man is susceptible. So it’s certain that some German troops (like their French, Belgian, British, and American counterparts) exploited opportunities to commit individual acts of depraved cruelty. But the purpose of the war propaganda peddled by the Anglo-American elite, as Fleming observes, was to create a widespread public image of Germans as “monsters capable of appalling sadism” – thereby coating an appeal to murderous collective hatred with a lacquer of sanctimony.
I’ve described agitprop of this variety as “atrocity porn.” It is designed to appeal to prurient interests and manipulate a dangerous appetite – in this case, what Augustine calls the libido domimandi, or the lust to rule over others.
The trick is to leave the target audience at once shivering in horror at a spectacle of sub-human depravity, panting with a visceral desire for vengeance, and rapturously self-righteous about the purity of its humane motives. People who succumb to it are easily subsumed into a hive mind of officially sanctioned hatred, and prepared to perpetrate crimes even more hideous than those that they believe typify the enemy.
Rhetoric of that kind abounded during the French Revolution, particularly the Jacobin regime’s war to annihilate the rebellious Vendee. It also figured prominently in the Lincoln regime’s war to conquer the newly independent southern states. However, it’s difficult to find a better expression of that mindset than the one offered in an editorial published in 1920 by Krasni Mech (The Red Sword), a publication of the Soviet Cheka secret police:
“Our morality has no precedent, and our humanity is absolute, because it rests on a new ideal. Our aim is to destroy all forms of oppression and violence. To us, everything is permitted, for we are the first to raise the sword not to oppress races and reduce them to slavery, but to liberate humanity from its shackles … Blood? Let blood flow like water … for only through the death of the old world can we liberate ourselves forever.” (Emphasis added.)
In pursuing his Grand Crusade for Democracy, Woodrow Wilson was squarely in that tradition, extolling the supposed virtue of “Force without stint or limit … the righteous and triumphant Force which shall make Right the law of the world and cast every selfish dominion in the dust.” To fortify the American “war will” through a steady diet of atrocity porn, the Wilson administration created a Department of Public Information that liaised with its British equivalent, as well as quasi-private British propaganda fronts such as the Navy League. That organization, Fleming points out, included “dozens of major bankers and corporate executives, from J.P. Morgan Jr. to Cornelius Vanderbilt.”
Through absolutely no fault of his own, Anderson Cooper is a great-great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Of considerably greater interest is the fact that as a student at Yale, Cooper spent two summers as an intern at Langley in a CIA program designed to cultivate future intelligence operatives.
When asked about Cooper’s background with the CIA, a CNN spokeswoman insisted that he chose not to pursue a job with the Agency after graduating from Yale. The same can be said, however, of many of the CIA’s most valuable media assets.
As Carl Bernstein documented decades ago, the CIA “ran a formal training program in the 1950s to teach its agents to be journalists. Intelligence officers were ‘taught how to make noises like reporters,’ explained a high CIA official, and were then placed in major news organizations with help from management. ‘These were the guys who went through the ranks and were told, ‘You’re going to be a journalist,’ the CIA official said. Relatively few of the 400-some [media] relationships described in Agency files followed that pattern, however; most involved persons who were already bona fide journalists when they began undertaking tasks for the Agency.”
By way of an initiative called “Operation Mockingbird,” the CIA built a large seraglio of paid media courtesans. This was carried out through the Office of Policy Coordination, which was created by Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner – the latter being the official who went on to organize coups (and the attendant propaganda campaigns) against governments in Iran and Guatemala. (Wisner’s son and namesake, incidentally, was a vice chairman at AIG – the CIA’s favorite global insurance conglomerate – until 2009; more recently he was tapped by the Obama administration to serve as a back-channel contact with Hosni Mubarak and Omar Suleiman.)
The tendrils of “Operation Mockingbird” extended through every significant national media organ, from the Washington Post and Newsweek to the Time-Life conglomerate, from the New York Times to CBS. As a result, according to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the Fourth Estate “has been captured by government and corporations, the military-industrial complex, the intelligence apparatus.” It is, in everything but name, an appendage of the Regime. This is clearly seen every time the Regime decides the time has come to mount another campaign of humanitarian bloodshed abroad.
Having “learned nothing from the horrors that they cheer-led like excitable teenage girls over the past 15 years, these bohemian bombers, these latte-sipping lieutenants, these iPad imperialists are back,” sighs a wearily disgusted Brendan O’Neill in the London Telegraph. “This time they’re demanding the invasion of Libya.”
On O’Neill’s side of the Atlantic, the Fleet Street Samurai are peddling “rumors of systematic male rape” in Libya. Others insist that the prospective war in Libya would in no way resemble “the foolishness of the Iraq invasion” – just as similar self-appointed sages promised that the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, each of which has lasted at least as long as the Vietnam War, would not be “another Vietnam.”
For some reason, this brings to mind the image of Bullwinkle repeatedly trying to pull a rabbit from his hat, blithely batting aside Rocky’s complaint that the trick “never works” by exclaiming, “This time for sure!” This time, we’re supposed to believe – or at least, pretend to believe – that the atrocity accounts are true, that military action sanctified by the “international community” is a moral obligation, that warlust and hatred are virtuous, and that the impending bloodshed will be a cleansing stream.
As is the case, one supposes, with any other variety, war pornography is nothing if not predictable. However, unlike Bullwinkle’s inept attempts at thaumaturgy, war porn is a trick that seems to work every time.
“All war is based on Deception” – “in war, the first casualty is truth“; Sun Tzu’s Art of War
The reports of Libya mobilizing its air force against its own people spread quickly around the world. However, Russia’s military chiefs say they have been monitoring from space — and the pictures tell a different story. According to Al Jazeera and BBC, on February 22 the Libyan government inflicted airstrikes on Benghazi — the country’s largest city — and on the capital Tripoli. However, the Russian military, monitoring the unrest via satellite from the very beginning, says nothing of the sort was going on on the ground: