Back on April 27, the Washington Post updated an article about a new poll showing that, despite ongoing multilateral talks, over one-fifth of Republicans currently support a military attack on Iran. The short piece referenced John McCain’s infamous 2007 “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran” quote (sung by a terrible old man to the tune of “Barbara Ann”), but soon after it was published the Post issued the following humble correction and clarification:
Kudos to the Post for forthrightly addressing and correcting such an appalling mistake. It’s comforting that the author is as embarrassed and remorseful as he seems. He should be. Yeeesh. (Still, it’s questionable whether The Beach Boys should ever be described as oldies, in the “Golden Oldies” sense, and even more suspect to place The Beatles in that – or any – category.)
The article, written by Aaron Blake for the paper’s “The Fix” blog, contains another egregious error – and this one has yet to be remedied.
In describing the recent Quinnipiac poll in which bombing Iran is supported by 13% of Americans (including 21% of self-identifying Republicans) over continuing nuclear negotiations, Blake notes that, in official circles, “basically nobody is talking about the United States taking military action to rein in Iran’s nuclear weapons program — at least at this point.”
At this point, it should be perfectly clear to professional journalists and their editors that international intelligence assessments consistently affirm that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. What Iran does have, however, is a nuclear energy program with uranium enrichment facilities, all of which are under international safeguards, strictly monitored and routinely inspected by the IAEA. No move to divert nuclear material to military or weaponization purposes have ever been detected. This is consistently affirmed by U.S., British, Russian, and even Israeli intelligence, as well as the IAEA. In fact, the IAEA itself has said there is “no concrete proof” Iran’s nuclear program “has ever had” a military component.
The poll, albeit misleading and speculative, is more careful in its language than Blake’s summary. Here’s the full question posed to respondents: “Would you prefer military intervention against Iran’s nuclear program or a negotiated settlement to reduce its nuclear potential?”
The conflation of Iran’s nuclear energy program with a nonexistent nuclear weapons program, as Blake demonstrates here, has plagued the news media for years and served to grossly misinform the public on the realities of Iranian intentions and capabilities. Though you wouldn’t know it from Blake’s report, Iran has no “nuclear weapons program” for the United States “to rein in.”
Perhaps more disappointing is that Blake’s offending phrase was published in the first place, especially considering that this precise issue of conflation, journalistic shorthand, and loose language has been specifically addressed before by Blake’s own paper.
In December 2011, Patrick B. Pexton, then The Washington Post‘s ombudsman, challenged the paper’s routinely irresponsible and alarmist reporting on Iran’s nuclear program, writing that the IAEA “does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one,” and warned that such misleading characterizations of such an important issue “can also play into the hands of those who are seeking further confrontation with Iran.”
Others in similar roles at leading media organizations concur. The following month, in January 2012, New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane responded to reader complaints that the paper’s reporting on Iran’s nuclear program was misleading and that the use of shorthand phrases legitimized and perpetuated false narratives. Brisbane agreed.
“I think the readers are correct on this…In this case, the distinction between the two [a nuclear energy program and a nuclear weapons program] is important because the Iranian program has emerged as a possible casus belli,” he wrote.
Days later, National Public Radio ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos weighed in. “Shorthand references are often dangerous in journalism, and listeners are correct to be on the alert for them,” he noted. “Repeated enough as fact – ‘Iran’s nuclear weapons program’ – they take on a life of their own.” Schumacher-Matos added that, at the behest of NPR’s Senior Editor for National Security Bruce Auster, “NPR’s policy is to refer in shorthand to Iran’s ‘nuclear program’ and not ‘nuclear weapons program'” and concluded, “This is a correct formula.”
The next year, in June 2013, The Guardian‘s Readers’ Editor Chris Elliott reached a similar conclusion, agreeing that the use of the term “nuclear weapons program” with regard to Iran is misleading and should be avoided.
In September 2013, after leaving the Post, Pexton chimed in again, doubling down on his assessment that speculating on Iranian intentions had no place in news reporting, especially when there is no evidence of a weapons program.
Offhand, erroneous descriptions repeated constantly in the media clearly go a long way toward turning an evidence-free speculation and hawkish talking point into an assumed fact. Throughout his own post, Blake’s tone is that of disbelief that over a tenth of the America public would want to bomb Iran rather than support diplomacy. Perhaps the problem is that they’ve been reading – and believing – reports like the one Blake himself wrote.
Considering the Post‘s well-known editorial line on Iran and past disregard for the suggestions of its former ombudsman (a position the paper eliminated permanently following Pexton’s departure in early 2013), there is little hope that Blake’s phrase will be corrected.
But, hey, at least they eventually got the Beatles thing right. For chrissake, people.
As embarrassing as the Judith Miller case was for the New York Times, the fiasco underscores a more troubling development that strikes near the heart of American democracy – the press corps’ gradual retreat from the principle of skepticism on national security issues to career-boosting “patriotism.”
Miller – and many other prominent Washington journalists over the past quarter century – largely built their careers by positioning themselves as defenders of supposed “American interests.” Thus, instead of tough reporting about national security operations, these reporters often became conduits for government propaganda.
In that sense, Miller’s prominence at the Times – where she had wide latitude to report and publish whatever she wanted – was a marker for how the “patriotic” journalists had overwhelmed the competing “skeptical” journalists, who saw their duty as bringing a critical eye to all government information, including national security claims, by which the people were informed and empowered to judge what was truly in “American interests.” [For more on that broader history, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
For her part – both in the credulous reporting about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and protection of a White House source who sought to discredit a whistleblower about a key WMD lie – Miller has come to personify the notion that American journalists should tailor their reporting to what is “good for the country” as defined by government officials.
Indeed, Miller seems to have trouble distinguishing between being a journalist and being part of the government team. Note, for instance, two of her comments about her grand jury testimony regarding the White House outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, who was the wife of the WMD whistleblower, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Presumably to give some deniability to one of her anti-Wilson sources – Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby – Miller said she told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “that Mr. Libby might have thought I still had security clearance, given my special embedded status in Iraq,” where she had traveled with a military unit in a fruitless search for WMD stockpiles.
In other words, Miller was saying that Libby might be forgiven for disclosing the identity of a covert CIA officer to a journalist because he might have thought Miller had government authorization to hear such secrets. But the notion that a reporter would accept a security clearance – which is a legally binding commitment to give the government authority over what information can be released – is anathema to anyone who believes in a free and independent press.
It is one thing for “embedded” journalists to accept the necessity of military censorship over tactical details in exchange for access to the battlefield. It is altogether different for a journalist to have a “security clearance.” For some journalistic purists, this statement was the most shocking element of Miller’s lengthy account of her testimony as published in the Times.
Secondly, toward the end of a Times chronology on the case, written by three other reporters, Miller is quoted as saying that she hoped she would eventually return to the newsroom and resume covering “the same thing I’ve always covered – threats to our country.” [NYT, Oct. 16. 2005]
To describe one’s “beat” as covering “threats to our country” amounts to another repudiation of a core journalistic principle – objectivity – the concept of a reporter setting aside his or her personal views so the facts can be researched and presented to the reader in as fair and balanced a way as possible.
Rather than insist on a separation between government and journalism, Miller appears to see little distinction between the two. Her comments suggest that she viewed her job as defending the security interests of the United States, rather than giving the public the unvarnished facts.
What that meant in the run-up to the war in Iraq was her serving as a conveyor belt for bogus intelligence on Iraq’s WMD. Most memorably, Miller co-wrote a key article asserting that Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes was evidence that Saddam Hussein was working on a nuclear bomb.
Cheney and other administration officials then cited the Times article as validation for their case against Iraq for alleged violation of arms control commitments. Both in Miller’s article and in TV appearances, administration officials told the American people that they couldn’t wait for the “smoking gun” proof of Iraq’s WMD to be “a mushroom cloud.”
The aluminum-tube story was later debunked by U.S. Energy Department experts and State Department analysts, but it remained a terrifying argument as George W. Bush stampeded the Congress and the country to war in fall 2002 and winter 2003. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Powell’s Widening Credibility Gap.”]
The aluminum-tube story, which Miller co-authored with Michael R. Gordon, was one of six articles that prompted a post-invasion Times self-criticism. Miller wrote or co-wrote five of the six articles that were deemed overly credulous of the U.S. government’s point of view. “In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged,” the Times editor’s note said. [NYT, May 26, 2004]
Since the Oct. 16, 2005, articles detailing Miller’s role in the Plame controversy, Miller’s image as a journalistic martyr – who went to jail rather than betray the confidence of a source – also has been tarnished.
After 85 days in jail resisting a federal subpoena, Miller finally agreed to testify about her three conversations with Libby regarding Ambassador Wilson’s criticism of another high-profile administration WMD claim, that Iraq had been seeking enriched uranium from the African nation of Niger.
In 2002, Cheney’s office expressed interest in a dubious report from Italy claiming that Iraq was trying to buy “yellowcake” uranium in Niger. Reacting to Cheney’s concern, the CIA dispatched Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador in Africa, to check out the allegations. Wilson returned believing that the claim was most likely baseless, an opinion shared by other U.S. government experts. Nevertheless, the claim ended up in Bush’s State of the Union speech in January 2003.
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Wilson began speaking with journalists on background about how his Niger findings had diverged from Bush’s State of the Union claim. Libby, a leading architect of the Iraq War, learned about Wilson’s criticism and began passing on negative information about Wilson to Miller.
Miller, who said she regarded Libby as “a good-faith source, who was usually straight with me,” met with him on June 23, 2003, in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House, according to the Times chronology. At that meeting, “Ms. Miller said her notes leave open the possibility that Mr. Libby told her Mr. Wilson’s wife might work at the agency,” the Times reported.
But Libby provided clearer details at a second meeting on July 8, 2003, two days after Wilson went public in an Op-Ed piece about his criticism of Bush’s use of the Niger allegations. At a breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel near the White House, Libby told Miller that Wilson’s wife worked at a CIA unit known as Winpac, for weapons intelligence, nonproliferation and arms control, the Times reported.
Miller’s notebook, the one used for that interview, contained a reference to “Valerie Flame,” an apparent misspelling of Mrs. Wilson’s maiden name. In the Times account, Miller said she told Fitzgerald’s grand jury that she believed the name didn’t come from Libby but from another source. But Miller claimed she couldn’t recall the source’s name.
In a third conversation, by telephone on July 12, 2003, Miller and Libby returned to the Wilson topic. Miller’s notes contain a reference to a “Victoria Wilson,” another misspelled reference to Wilson’s wife, Miller said.
Two days later, on July 14, 2003, conservative columnist Robert Novak publicly outed Plame as a CIA operative in an article that cited “two administration sources” and tried to discredit Wilson’s findings on the grounds that his wife had recommended him for the Niger mission.
Miller never wrote an article about the Wilson-Plame affair although she claimed she “made a strong recommendation to my editor” for a story after Novak’s column appeared, but was rebuffed. Times managing editor (and later executive editor) Jill Abramson, who was Washington bureau chief in summer 2003, said Miller never made such a recommendation, and Miller said she wouldn’t divulge the name of the editor who supposedly said no, the Times chronology said.
A Criminal Probe
The Wilson-Plame affair took another turn in the latter half of 2003 when the CIA sought a criminal investigation of the leak of Plame’s covert identity. Because of conflicts of interest in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, Fitzgerald – the U.S. Attorney in Chicago – was named as a special prosecutor in December 2003.
Known as a hard-nosed and independent-minded prosecutor, Fitzgerald demanded testimony from Miller and several other journalists in summer 2004. Miller refused to cooperate, saying she had promised her sources confidentiality and arguing that waivers signed by Libby and other officials had been coerced.
Almost a year later, Miller was imprisoned for contempt of court. After 85 days in jail, she relented and agreed to testify, but only after she received a personal assurance from Libby that he wanted her to appear. But the details of the Miller-Libby minuet over the waiver put Miller’s refusal to testify in a different – and more troubling – light.
According to the Times account, Libby’s lawyer, Joseph A. Tate, assured Miller’s lawyer Abrams as early as summer 2004 that Miller was free to testify, but he added that Libby already had told Fitzgerald’s grand jury that Libby had not given Miller the name or undercover status of Wilson’s wife.
“That raised a potential conflict for Ms. Miller,” the Times reported. “Did the references in her notes to ‘Valerie Flame’ and ‘Victoria Wilson’ suggest that she would have to contradict Mr. Libby’s account of their conversations? Ms. Miller said in an interview that Mr. Tate was sending her a message that Libby did not want her to testify.”
According to Miller’s account, her attorney Abrams told her that Libby’s lawyer Tate “was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn’t give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, ‘Don’t go there, or, we don’t want you there.’”
Responding to a question from the New York Times, Tate called Miller’s interpretation of his position “outrageous.” After all, if Miller were telling the truth, Tate’s maneuver would border on suborning perjury and obstruction of justice.
But there is also a disturbing element for Miller’s defenders. Her subsequent actions could be interpreted as finding another means to protect Libby. By refusing to testify and going to jail, Miller helped Libby – temporarily at least – avoid a possible indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Miller’s jailing also drew the Times editorial page and many Washington journalists into a campaign aimed at pressuring Fitzgerald to back off his investigation. In effect, many members of the Washington news media were pulled, unwittingly or not, into what looks like a cover-up of a criminal conspiracy.
The Times editorialized that Miller would not reverse her refusal to testify and that additional incarceration was unjustified. But the jail time worked. When Miller realized that Fitzgerald wouldn’t relent and that she might stay in prison indefinitely, she decided to reopen negotiations with Libby about whether she should testify.
Libby sent her a friendly letter that read like an invitation to testify but also to stick with the team. “Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning,” Libby wrote. “They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.”
When Miller finally appeared before the grand jury, she offered an account that seemed to twist and turn in underground directions to protect Libby. For instance, she insisted that someone else had mentioned “Valerie Flame,” but she said she couldn’t recall who. Before testifying to the grand jury, Miller also extracted an agreement from Fitzgerald that he wouldn’t ask her questions about any source other than Libby.
But the longer back story of “Plame-gate” was how the Washington media culture changed over a generation, from the skeptical days of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers to an era in which leading journalists see their “roots” connecting to the national security state.
Part Two: Rise of the ‘Patriotic Journalist’
(Originally published on Oct. 20, 2005)
The apex for the “skeptical journalists” came in the mid-1970s when the press followed up disclosure of the Vietnam War’s Pentagon Papers and exposure of Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal with revelations of CIA abuses, such as illegal spying on Americans and helping Chile’s army oust an elected government.
There were reasons for this new press aggressiveness. After some 58,000 U.S. soldiers had died in Vietnam during a long war fought for murky reasons, many reporters no longer gave the government the benefit of the doubt. The press corps’ new rallying cry was the public’s right to know, even when the wrongdoing occurred in the secretive world of national security.
But this journalistic skepticism represented an affront to government officials who had long enjoyed a relatively free hand in the conduct of foreign policy. The Wise Men and the Old Boys – the stewards of the post-World War II era – faced a harder time lining up public consensus behind any action. This national security elite, including then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush, viewed the post-Vietnam journalism as a threat to America’s ability to strike at its perceived enemies around the world.
Yet, it was from these ruins of distrust – the rubble of suspicion left behind by Vietnam and Watergate – that the conservative-leaning national security elite began its climb back, eventually coming full circle, gaining effective control of what a more “patriotic” press would tell the people, before stumbling into another disastrous war in Iraq.
One early turning point in the switch from “skeptical” journalism to “patriotic” journalism occurred in 1976 with the blocking of Rep. Otis Pike’s congressional report on CIA misdeeds. CIA Director Bush had lobbied behind the scenes to convince Congress that suppressing the report was important for national security.
But CBS news correspondent Daniel Schorr got hold of the full document and decided that he couldn’t join in keeping the facts from the public. He leaked the report to the Village Voice – and was fired by CBS amid charges of reckless journalism.
“The media’s shift in attention from the report’s charges to their premature disclosure was skillfully encouraged by the Executive Branch,” wrote Kathryn Olmstead in her book on the media battles of the 1970s, Challenging the Secret Government.
“[Mitchell] Rogovin, the CIA’s counsel, later admitted that the Executive Branch’s ‘concern’ over the report’s damage to national security was less than genuine,” Olmstead wrote. But the Schorr case had laid down an important marker. The counterattack against the “skeptical journalists” had begun.
In the late 1970s, conservative leaders began a concerted drive to finance a media infrastructure of their own along with attack groups that would target mainstream reporters who were viewed as too liberal or insufficiently patriotic.
Richard Nixon’s former Treasury Secretary Bill Simon took the lead. Simon, who headed the conservative Olin Foundation, rallied like-minded foundations – associated with Lynde and Harry Bradley, Smith Richardson, the Scaife family and the Coors family – to invest their resources in advancing the conservative cause.
Money went to fund conservative magazines taking the fight to the liberals and to finance attack groups, like Accuracy in Media, that hammered away at the supposed “liberal bias” of the national news media.
This strategy gained momentum in the early 1980s with the arrival of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Spearheaded by intellectual policymakers now known as the neoconservatives, the government developed a sophisticated approach – described internally as “perception management” – that included targeting journalists who wouldn’t fall into line. [For the latest on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Victory of ‘Perception Management.’”]
So, when New York Times correspondent Raymond Bonner reported from El Salvador about right-wing death squads, his accounts were criticized and his patriotism challenged. Bonner further infuriated the White House in early 1982 when he disclosed a massacre by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army around the town of El Mozote. The story appeared just as Reagan was praising the army’s human rights progress.
Like other journalists who were viewed as overly critical of Reagan’s foreign policy, Bonner faced both public attacks on his reputation and private lobbying of his editors, seeking his removal. Bonner soon found his career sidetracked. After being pulled out of Central America, he resigned from the Times.
Bonner’s ouster was another powerful message to the national news media about the fate that awaited reporters who challenged Ronald Reagan’s White House. (Years later, after a forensic investigation confirmed the El Mozote massacre, the Times rehired Bonner.)
Though conservative activists routinely bemoaned what they called the “liberal media” at the big newspapers and TV networks, the Reagan administration actually found many willing collaborators at senior levels of U.S. news organizations.
At the New York Times, executive editor Abe Rosenthal followed a generally neoconservative line of intense anticommunism and strong support for Israel. Under owner Martin Peretz, the supposedly leftist New Republic slid into a similar set of positions, including enthusiastic backing for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
Where I worked at the Associated Press, general manager Keith Fuller – the company’s top executive – was considered a staunch supporter of Reagan’s foreign policy and a fierce critic of recent social change. In 1982, Fuller gave a speech condemning the 1960s and praising Reagan’s election.
“As we look back on the turbulent Sixties, we shudder with the memory of a time that seemed to tear at the very sinews of this country,” Fuller said during a speech in Worcester, Massachusetts, adding that Reagan’s election a year earlier had represented a nation “crying, ‘Enough.’ …
“We don’t believe that the union of Adam and Bruce is really the same as Adam and Eve in the eyes of Creation. We don’t believe that people should cash welfare checks and spend them on booze and narcotics. We don’t really believe that a simple prayer or a pledge of allegiance is against the national interest in the classroom. We’re sick of your social engineering. We’re fed up with your tolerance of crime, drugs and pornography. But most of all, we’re sick of your self-perpetuating, burdening bureaucracy weighing ever more heavily on our backs.”
Fuller’s sentiments were common in the executive suites of major news organizations, where Reagan’s reassertion of an aggressive U.S. foreign policy mostly was welcomed. Working journalists who didn’t sense the change in the air were headed for danger.
By the time of Reagan’s landslide reelection in 1984, the conservatives had come up with catchy slogans for any journalist or politician who still criticized excesses in U.S. foreign policy. They were known as the “blame America firsters” or – in the case of the Nicaragua conflict – “Sandinista sympathizers.”
The practical effect of these slurs on the patriotism of journalists was to discourage skeptical reporting on Reagan’s foreign policy and to give the administration a freer hand for conducting operations in Central America and the Middle East outside public view.
Gradually, a new generation of journalists began to fill key reporting jobs, bringing with them an understanding that too much skepticism on national security issues could be hazardous to one’s career. Intuitively, these reporters knew there was little or no upside to breaking even important stories that made Reagan’s foreign policy look bad. That would just make you a target of the expanding conservative attack machine. You would be “controversialized,” another term that Reagan operatives used to describe their anti-reporter strategies.
Often I am asked why it took so long for the U.S. news media to uncover the secret operations that later became known as the Iran-Contra Affair, clandestine arms sales to the Islamic fundamentalist government of Iran with some of the profits – and other secret funds – funneled into the Contra war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.
Though the AP was not known as a leading investigative news organization – and my superiors weren’t eager supporters – we were able to get ahead on the story in 1984, 1985 and 1986 because the New York Times, the Washington Post and other top news outlets mostly looked the other way. It took two external events – the shooting down of a supply plane over Nicaragua in October 1986 and the disclosure of the Iran initiative by a Lebanese newspaper in November 1986 – to bring the scandal into focus.
In late 1986 and early 1987, there was a flurry of Iran-Contra coverage, but the Reagan administration largely succeeded in protecting top officials, including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The growing conservative news media, led by Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times, lashed out at journalists and government investigators who dared push the edges of the envelope or closed in on Reagan and Bush.
But resistance to the Iran-Contra scandal also penetrated mainstream news outlets. At Newsweek, where I went to work in early 1987, Editor Maynard Parker was hostile to the possibility that Reagan might be implicated. During one Newsweek dinner/interview with retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft and then-Rep. Dick Cheney, Parker expressed support for the notion that Reagan’s role should be protected even if that required perjury. “Sometimes you have to do what’s good the country,” Parker said. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]
When Iran-Contra conspirator Oliver North went on trial in 1989, Parker and other news executives ordered that Newsweek’s Washington bureau not even cover the trial, presumably because Parker just wanted the scandal to go away. (When the North trial became a major story anyway, I was left scrambling to arrange daily transcripts so we could keep abreast of the trial’s developments. Because of these and other differences over the Iran-Contra scandal, I left Newsweek in 1990.)
Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, a Republican, also encountered press hostility when his investigation finally broke through the White House cover-up in 1991. Moon’s Washington Times routinely lambasted Walsh and his staff over minor issues, such as the elderly Walsh flying first class on airplanes or ordering room-service meals. [See Walsh’s Firewall.]
But the attacks on Walsh were not coming only from the conservative news media. Toward the end of 12 years of Republican rule, mainstream journalists also realized their careers were far better served by staying on the good side of the Reagan-Bush crowd.
So, when President George H.W. Bush sabotaged Walsh’s probe by issuing six Iran-Contra pardons on Christmas Eve 1992, prominent journalists praised Bush’s actions. They brushed aside Walsh’s complaint that the move was the final act in a long-running cover-up that protected a secret history of criminal behavior and Bush’s personal role.
“Liberal” Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen spoke for many of his colleagues when he defended Bush’s fatal blow against the Iran-Contra investigation. Cohen especially liked Bush’s pardon of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who had been indicted for obstruction of justice but was popular around Washington.
In a Dec. 30, 1992, column, Cohen said his view was colored by how impressed he was when he would see Weinberger in the Georgetown Safeway store, pushing his own shopping cart.
“Based on my Safeway encounters, I came to think of Weinberger as a basic sort of guy, candid and no nonsense – which is the way much of official Washington saw him,” Cohen wrote. “Cap, my Safeway buddy, walks, and that’s all right with me.”
For fighting too hard for the truth, Walsh drew derision as a kind of Captain Ahab obsessively pursuing the White Whale. Writer Marjorie Williams delivered this damning judgment against Walsh in a Washington Post magazine article, which read:
“In the utilitarian political universe of Washington, consistency like Walsh’s is distinctly suspect. It began to seem … rigid of him to care so much. So un-Washington. Hence the gathering critique of his efforts as vindictive, extreme. Ideological. … But the truth is that when Walsh finally goes home, he will leave a perceived loser.”
By the time the Reagan-Bush era ended in January 1993, the era of the “skeptical journalist” was dead, too, at least on issues of national security.
The Webb Case
Even years later, when historical facts surfaced suggesting that serious abuses had been missed around the Iran-Contra Affair, mainstream news outlets took the lead in rallying to the Reagan-Bush defense.
When a controversy over Contra-drug trafficking reemerged in 1996, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times went on the attack – against Gary Webb, the reporter who revived interest in the scandal. Even admissions of guilt by the CIA’s inspector general in 1998 didn’t shake the largely dismissive treatment of the issue by the major newspapers. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]
(For Webb’s courageous reporting, he was pushed out of his job at the San Jose Mercury News, his career was ruined, his marriage collapsed and – in December 2004 – he killed himself with his father’s revolver.) [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Warning in Gary Webb’s Death.”]
When Republican rule was restored in 2001 with George W. Bush’s controversial “victory,” major news executives and many rank-and-file journalists understood that their careers could best be protected by wrapping themselves in the old red-white-and-blue. “Patriotic” journalism was in; “skeptical” journalism was definitely out.
That tendency deepened even more after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as many journalists took to wearing American flag lapels and avoided critical reporting about Bush’s sometimes shaky handling of the crisis. For instance, Bush’s seven-minute freeze in a second-grade classroom – after being told “the nation is under attack” – was hidden from the public even though it was filmed and witnessed by White House pool reporters. (Millions of Americans were shocked when they finally saw the footage two years later in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.”)
In November 2001, to avoid other questions about Bush’s legitimacy, the results of a media recount of the Florida vote were misrepresented to obscure the finding that Al Gore would have carried the state – and thus the White House – if all legally cast votes were counted. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “So Bush Did Steal the White House.”]
In 2002, as Bush shifted focus from Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan to Saddam Hussein and Iraq, the “patriotic” journalists moved with him. Some of the few remaining “skeptical” media figures were silenced, such as MSNBC’s host Phil Donahue whose show was canceled because he invited on too many war opponents.
In most newspapers, the occasional critical articles were buried deep inside, while credulous stories accepting the administration’s claims about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction were bannered on Page One.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller was in her element as she tapped into her friendly administration sources to produce WMD stories, like the one about how Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes was proof that it was building a nuclear bomb. The article gave rise to the White House warning that Americans couldn’t risk the “smoking gun” on Iraq’s WMD being “a mushroom cloud.”
In February 2003, when Secretary of State Colin Powell made his United Nations speech accusing Iraq of possessing WMD stockpiles, the national news media swooned at his feet. The Washington Post’s op-ed page was filled with glowing tributes to his supposedly air-tight case, which would later be exposed as a mix of exaggerations and outright lies. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Powell’s Widening Credibility Gap.”]
The rout of “skeptical” journalism was so complete – driven to the fringes of the Internet and to a few brave souls in Knight-Ridder’s Washington bureau – that the “patriotic” reporters often saw no problem casting aside even the pretense of objectivity. In the rush to war, news organizations joined in ridiculing the French and other longtime allies who urged caution. Those countries became the “axis of weasels” and cable TV devoted hours of coverage to diners that renamed “French fries” as “Freedom fries.”
Once the invasion began, the coverage on MSNBC, CNN and the major networks was barely discernable from the patriotic fervor on Fox. Like Fox News, MSNBC produced promotional segments, packaging heroic footage of American soldiers, often surrounded by thankful Iraqis and underscored with stirring music. [See Neck Deep.]
“Embedded” reporters often behaved like excited advocates for the American side of the war. But objectivity also was missing back at the studios where anchors voiced outrage about Geneva Convention violations when Iraqi TV aired pictures of captured American soldiers, but the U.S. media saw nothing wrong with broadcasting images of captured Iraqis. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “International Law a la Carte.”]
As Judith Miller would later remark unabashedly, she saw her beat as “what I’ve always covered – threats to our country.” Referring to her time “embedded” with a U.S. military unit searching for WMD, she claimed that she had received a government “security clearance.” [NYT, Oct. 16, 2005]
While Miller may have been an extreme case of mixing patriotism and journalism, she was far from alone as a member of her generation who absorbed the lessons of the 1980s, that skeptical journalism on national security issues was a fast way to put yourself in the unemployment line.
Only gradually, as Iraq’s WMD stockpiles failed to materialize but a stubborn insurgency did, the bloody consequences of “patriotic” journalism have begun to dawn on the American people. By not asking tough questions, journalists contributed to a mess (that ultimately cost the lives of almost 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis).
Retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom, a top military intelligence official under Ronald Reagan, predicted that the Iraq invasion “will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history.”
At the core of this disaster were the cozy relationships between the “patriotic” journalists and their sources. In her Oct. 16, 2005, account of her interviews with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, Miller gave the public an inadvertent look into that closed world of shared secrets and mutual trust.
Libby talked with Miller in two face-to-face meetings and one phone call in 2003, as the Bush administration tried to beat back post-invasion questions about how the President made his case for war, according to Miller’s story.
As Miller agreed to let Libby hide behind a misleading identification as a “former Hill staffer,” Libby unleashed a harsh attack on one whistleblower, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was challenging Bush’s claims that Iraq had sought enriched uranium from the African nation of Niger. The Miller/Libby interviews included Libby’s references to Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, who was an undercover CIA officer working on proliferation issues.
While the Plame case became a major embarrassment for the Bush administration – and for the New York Times – it did not stop many of Miller’s colleagues from continuing their old roles as “patriotic” journalists opposing the disclosure of too many secrets to the American people. For instance, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen – who hailed George H.W. Bush’s pardons that destroyed the Iran-Contra investigation in 1992 – adopted a similar stance against Fitzgerald’s investigation.
“The best thing Patrick Fitzgerald could do for his country is get out of Washington, return to Chicago and prosecute some real criminals,” Cohen wrote in a column entitled “Let This Leak Go.”
“As it is, all he has done so far is send Judith Miller of the New York Times to jail and repeatedly haul this or that administration high official before a grand jury, investigating a crime that probably wasn’t one in the first place but that now, as is often the case, might have metastasized into some sort of cover-up – but again, of nothing much,” Cohen wrote. “Go home, Pat.” [Washington Post, Oct. 13, 2005]
If Fitzgerald did as Cohen wished and closed down the investigation without indictments, the result would have been the continuation of the status quo in Washington. The Bush administration would get to keep control of the secrets and reward friendly “patriotic” journalists with selective leaks – and protected careers.
It is that cozy status quo that was endangered by the Plame case. But the stakes of the case were even bigger than that, going to the future of American democracy and to two questions in particular: Will journalists return to the standard of an earlier time when disclosing important facts to the electorate was the goal, rather than Cohen’s notion of putting the comfortable relationships between Washington journalists and government officials first?
Put differently, will journalists decide that confronting the powerful with tough questions is the true patriotic test of a journalist?
(Eventually, the Plamegate investigation ended with Fitzgerald bringing no charges for the leak of a covert CIA officer but he did convict Libby of lying to investigators and he was sentenced to 30 months in prison. But Libby never did go to jail because President Bush commuted his sentence.)
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
In the 1976 docudrama about the Watergate affair and the fall of Richard Nixon, All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward’s source at the FBI, Deep Throat, tells him to “follow the money.” To the Washington Post editorial board in 2015, doing just that is problematic—and probably anti-Semitic. Or at least that’s their charge in a piece published last Friday entitled, “Argentina’s President Resorts to Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories,” the Post opens by asking:
What do lobbyists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the director of a Washington think tank have to do with hedge-fund manager Paul Singer and the Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who died mysteriously in January? Well, according to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, they are all part of a “global modus operandi” that “generates international political operations of any type, shape and color.”[Links added]
The Post’s problem is that Kirchner posted a “rant” on her website highlighting the fact that Paul Singer—whose hedge fund, Elliott Management, is seeking to force Argentina to repay the full amount of its defaulted debt—has contributed a whole lot of cash to the same neoconservative organizations in Washington that have been tarring the South American nation as a deadbeat ally of Iranian-backed terrorism. These same groups have also uncritically promoted the work of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who in 2006 issued a highly controversial 900-page indictment charging seven senior Iranian officials with ordering the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), that killed 85 people. Nisman died in his apartment from a bullet to the head January 18, the night before he was set to testify before the Argentine congress in support of new charges that Kirchner and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, had conspired with Tehran to quash international arrest warrants against those same Iranians, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and then President Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, in exchange for a favorable trade agreement.
Making the Links
In 2013, Inter Press Service (IPS) ran a two-part feature by Charles (here and here) on the links between Singer and Nisman’s neoconservative fan club in the United States. The Argentine press and the president herself recently cited this work. The Post, however, plays dumb: “How do Singer, AIPAC and Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies [FDD] come into this?” it asks.
Mr. Singer—or “the Vulture Lord,” as Ms. Kirchner called him—won a court battle on behalf of holders of Argentine debt last year; Ms. Kirchner chose to default rather than pay. Mr. Dubowitz’s think tank has published papers on Argentine-Iranian relations, while AIPAC has criticized the Obama administration’s preliminary nuclear deal with Iran. Confused?
Conspicuously and no doubt consciously missing from the Post’s retelling is the fourth sentence of Kirchner’s “rant”: “[Singer] contributed to the NGO Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), $3.6 million from 2008 to 2014.” By leaving this out, the Post is better able to pretend the only link between Singer and Dubowitz and Nisman is their Judaism.
Argentina, whose politics are reputedly as byzantine and Machiavellian as any country’s, does indeed have a history of anti-Semitism. Not only did it offer a refuge to fleeing Nazis after World War II, but the military junta that took power in 1976 included elements that extolled the Third Reich, as eloquently retold by perhaps the most famous survivor of the junta’s torture chambers, Jacobo Timerman (the foreign minister’s late father) in his 1981 book, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.
Kirchner may indeed have a political interest in claiming that an international conspiracy is defaming her government, but the evidence for such a conspiracy in this case is much stronger than the Post suggests. As noted above, millions of dollars have flowed from Singer’s pockets to the various neoconservative groups whose advocacy of confrontation with Iran has extended to attacking Argentina, in particular over its ties to the Islamic Republic.
Singer, who sits on the board of the hawkish Republican Jewish Coalition, turns out to be a generous funder of not only FDD, but AIPAC and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), as well as a number of other right-wing groups and politicians that have stoked hostility toward Iran. In 2010, for example, his personal and family foundations contributed a combined $1 million to the American Israel Education Foundation, the fundraising wing of AIPAC and the sponsor of its congressional junkets to Israel. The $3.6 million he gave to FDD between 2008 and 2011, meanwhile, makes him the group’s second largest donor during those three years. So, it’s pretty clear that what ties AIPAC and FDD together is not only their anti-Iran efforts, but also Paul Singer’s largesse. And that’s the link Kirchner highlights but the Post leaves out.
Make no mistake: Singer and Elliott Management stand to make as much as $2 billion if they can collect full value on the debt they bought for pennies on the dollar after the country’s 2001 default. About 93 percent of Argentina’s bondholders agreed to accept a fraction of what they were originally owed (a fact the Post also conveniently omitted). But Singer—who has done this sort of thing before with other nations that have defaulted on their debt—sued in U.S. court to recover the full amount, a move the Kirchner government has fought every step of the way. The Obama administration and the International Monetary Fund, as well as most of Latin America and Washington’s closest European allies, have also sided with Argentina, viewing Singer’s actions as a threat to the international financial system.
The Iranian “Connection”
What has this got to do with Nisman, though? His allegations of Iranian direction in the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires—and subsequent charges that the Kirchner government was trying to cover up that involvement so as to not undermine its growing economic relations with the Tehran—proved quite useful in another arena: the court of public and congressional opinion. According to IPS’s Gareth Porter, Nisman’s 2006 indictments were based virtually entirely on the testimony of a long-discredited former Iranian intelligence officer and several members of the cult-like Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that fought alongside Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war.
But the claims have undoubtedly been useful to Singer’s cause. “We do whatever we can to get our government and media’s attention focused on what a bad actor Argentina is,” Robert Raben, executive director of the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA) explained to The Huffington Post. ATFA, a group Singer helped create with other hold-out creditors in 2007, spent at least $3.8 million dollars over 5 years doing whatever it could to paint Argentina as a pariah, according to IPS. Connecting the Kirchner government to Iran has clearly furthered that purpose.
“Argentina and Iran: Shameful Allies” was the headline of one ATFA ad that ran in Washington newspapers back in June 2013 as the Obama administration was considering whether to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Argentina’s favour. The ad featured adjoining photos of Kirchner and outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad connected by the question, “A Pact With the Devil?”
“What’s the TRUTH About Argentina’s Deal with Iran?” asked another very flashy full-page ad featuring unflattering photos of Kirchner and Hassan Rouhani published in the Post’s front section shortly thereafter. The ad included excerpts of letters denouncing the joint investigation from members of Congress, including Mark Kirk (R-IL) who received more than $95,000 from employees of Singer’s firm, Elliott Management, in the 2010 election. The signer of one letter urging the administration against siding with Argentina, former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY)—who after his re-election in 2014 pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion and resigned shortly thereafter—received $38,000 in campaign contributions from Elliott in 2012, nearly twice as much as his next largest donor.
Singer’s generosity also appears to have produced results in the think tank world, with Dubowitz’s FDD leading the way. In May 2013, as ATFA was running the Kirchner-Ahmadinejad ad, FDD release an English-language summary of a new “ground-breaking” report by Nisman detailing “Iran’s extensive terrorist network in Latin America.” (In an extended exchange with ProPublica here and here, Jim pointed out the summary’s many serious holes, leaps of logic, and other weaknesses.) The report triggered a flood of op-eds by FDD fellows and fellow-travellers at other neo-conservative organizations, as well as a series of hearings held by the House Homeland Security Subcommittee. According to FDD’s vice president, Toby Dershowitz, the report provided:
a virtual road map for how Iran’s long arm of terrorism can reach unsuspecting communities and that the AMIA attack was merely the canary in the coal mine. …The no-holds-barred, courageous report is a ‘must read’ for policy makers and law enforcement around the world and Nisman himself should be tapped for his guidance and profound understanding of Iran’s terrorism strategy.
Nisman’s death, on the eve of his testimony before the Argentine Congress about his charges against Kirchner and Timerman (since dismissed by two courts), produced another outpouring of articles by FDD fellows recalling the prosecutor’s tireless efforts to document Iran’s alleged involvement in the AMIA bombings and Kirchner’s purported courtship of Iran. Within a month, FDD announced the establishment of an “Alberto Nisman Award for Courage.” “We must pay careful attention to the detailed Iranian playbook he left behind and from it, heed important lessons in counter-terrorism and law enforcement,” Dershowitz said in the announcement. (For an interesting take on Nisman’s work, see “Why Nisman is No Hero in Argentine Bombing Case” by Argentine journalist Graciela Mochkofsky published last month in The Forward.)
Although FDD clearly lent itself with gusto to Singer’s efforts to tar Argentina and Kirchner with the Iranian brush, AIPAC has been more reserved. It has focused on the issue of Iranian terrorism in its own tireless drive to promote sanctions legislation and a policy of confrontation against the Islamic Republic. In 2010, however, the same year in which Singer and his foundation contributed $1 million to the premier pro-Israel lobby, Nisman was featured on a panel entitled, “Dangerous Liaisons: Iran’s Alliances With Rogue Regimes” at the group’s annual policy conference.
AEI Joins In
As for AEI, Singer would find it attractive not only for its pro-Israel hawkishness and long-standing hostility toward Iran and leftist governments everywhere, but also to its domestic agenda: a hands-off policy toward Wall Street. In other words, he may have had several reasons to give the group $1.1 million in 2009—its second-biggest donor that year—and another $1.2 million over the next two. Whatever his reasons, those who received those millions surely (and demonstrably) knew well enough not to upset their benefactor. And AEI fellow Roger Noriega, a former senior Bush administration official, has certainly pushed the Argentina-Iran/Nisman connection.
As Charles reported in 2013, Noriega has himself been paid at least $60,000 by Elliott Management since 2007—the same year AFTA was founded—to lobby on the issue of “Sovereign Debt Owed to a U.S. Company.” In 2011, he published an article on AEI’s website citing Nisman’s AMIA indictment and denouncing Iran’s offer to cooperate with Argentina in investigating the AMIA bombing as “shocking, in light of Tehran’s apparent complicity in that attack.” The article—“Argentina’s Secret Deal With Iran?”—cited secret documents suggesting that Tehran and Buenos Aires had recently renewed their cooperation on nuclear development as part of a deal “brokered and paid for” by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
Two years later, Noriega and Jose Cardenas, a contributor to AEI’s “Venezuela-Iran Project,” co-authored a seven-page policy brief on AEI’s website entitled “Argentina’s Race to the Bottom,” which, among other things, charged that Kirchner’s government was “casting its lot with rogue governments like those in Venezuela and Iran.” Noting that two-way trade with Iran had grown from $339 million in 2002 to $18.1 billion in 2011, the article asserted:
…[T]he Kirchner government has been turning its back on its historical alliances and increasingly tilting its economic relationships toward countries of dubious international standing where rule of law is less of a concern.
And a week after FDD announced its Nisman Award for Courage, Noriega was back at it with an article headlined “Argentina’s Kirchner Reeling from Scandal.” The piece called for a “credible international investigation into Nisman’s case… to ensure that his 10-year search for the truth was not in vain and that justice is attained not only for his family but also for the victims of the 1994 AMIA bombing.” In a veiled reference to Singer’s quest, he wrote:
From ongoing battles with bondholders playing out in a New York courtroom to pressuring critical news outlets through threats and intimidation to failed attempts to jumpstart a flagging economy, the Kirchner administration cannot end soon enough for many Argentines. Candidates lining up to replace Kirchner in the October elections will likely position themselves as far away from the kirchnerista record as possible. A new administration will have ample opportunity – and likely significant public support – to chart a new economic course. That means reconciling with international financial institutions and markets, restoring trust among foreign investors, and rooting out corruption.
Perhaps Noriega is simply interested in tarring Argentina with the Iranian brush in keeping with his long-standing crusade against any Latin American government that defies Washington’s writ. But like others engaged in this campaign, he and his organization have been paid generously by a very wealthy individual with a clear financial stake in seeing that Argentina’s current government is excised from the community of respectable nations, at least until it pays what he thinks he is owed.
If the Post had “followed the money,” it perhaps would not have been so “confused” by the connections Kirchner highlighted between Singer and those who have attacked her government over its allegedly nefarious relations with Iran. Ignoring Deep Throat’s advice and acting as if that trail of money doesn’t exist allowed the paper to better roll out the powerful charge of anti-Semitism. In truth, it’s not the president of Argentina’s supposed bigotry that offends, though, but the powerful enemies she’s made (and how much they’re worth).
Read the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal on Baltimore, and they tell you violence broke out there Monday. You hear an NPR correspondent refer to an “eruption of violence” in the city. The New Republic’s Rebecca Traister disagrees. “Violence broke out and erupted not when students threw stones at police, but when Freddie Gray suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody, and, eventually, died.”
Maybe. But the Baltimore Sun concluded last September that, in the preceding four years, “more than 100 people [had] won court judgments or settlements related to allegations,” against police, “of brutality and civil rights violations.” Reporter Mark Puente detailed the “head trauma, organ failure, and even death” awaiting victims. This was when violence broke out.
Perhaps—though Christian Parenti, in 1997, explained that “police violence is soaring.” “By mid-August of this year Baltimore Police had already shot more than 70 civilians,” he added. It was the dawn of the “zero tolerance” era. The approach directs cops to “stop, frisk, and arrest vast numbers of young black and Hispanic men for minor offenses,” Jeffrey Rosen clarified. It made a believer of Martin O’Malley, Democrat, Mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007. The city’s population was 640,000 in 2005. There were more than 100,000 arrests that year.
Was this when violence broke out? Possibly—but in March 1980, “an off-duty police detective, without warning, shot and paralyzed a 17-year-old black youth,” Associated Press reported. “The officer later said he thought the youth, Ja-Wan McGee, was going to rob a pizza parlor, but young McGee was taking a cigarette lighter out of his pocket.” In August 1978, the Baltimore Afro-American broke a story about a trio of white cops. They issued black teenager Derek Copeland “a green pass giving the youth permission to walk neighborhood streets”—“similar,” the paper observed, “to the one issued by the South African government led by John Vorster.”
Was it then that violence erupted? Or was it early the morning of June 27, 1969, when Helen Smith sat on a stoop with Donald Best? Patrolman Alvin Nachman approached with his dog, and an order: “hold the noise down.” No neighbors had complained. The dog attacked Helen first, and the officer maced her as she tried to fight off the animal. She got 75 stitches, and Donald 32 “to close the dog bite wounds in his side and hip,” the Afro disclosed. “Both Mrs. Smith and Mr. Best were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. They were both forced to spend the night in jail after treatment for their wounds.”
If not then, violence hit Baltimore five years earlier. Raymond Petty drove there from Halifax, VA, to visit his sister Hazel in June 1964. She was ill and the outlook was not good. Raymond was in a mild car accident after arriving. His brother Louis was at the scene, the cops arrived. The Afro described how policemen bludgeoned Louis “although they had arrested him illegally, and continued to beat him in a patrol wagon while transporting him to the police station.” He was dead two days later.
But really the violence began before that. It was 1956. There were five police killings in four months. Patrolman Charles Fennell shot Harry Boyd, Jr. in the back on June 25. Patrolman Walter Mina, Jr.’s bullet wounded Robert Harper in the leg on July 7. The blood drained from Harper’s injury until he died. On August 15, Sergeant Albert Heck killed 24-year-old Frank J. Williams. Patrolman Benjamin Ledden opened fire on September 19—in self-defense, he insisted—terminating Donald Jackson’s life at 23. Patrolman Marshall V. Brewer took out 14-year-old Benjamin Brown with a rifle he “didn’t know was loaded.” Of these five policemen, only Brewer was suspended.
Those were just the 1956 shootings. The Afro’s Elizabeth Murphy Oliver wrote of her visit to Northwestern Police Station that September. What she saw shattered her. She “hoped it was a dream.” It wasn’t. She had witnessed “a policeman beat a man and drag him roughly on the floor while the victim writhed and rolled in agony.” Vernon Johnson “was still sobbing and holding his eye” when it ended. “Blood was dripping from somewhere.” Oliver “wondered how an eye could run blood,” watched Johnson’s tears fall, “mixed with blood.” The Afro visited Johnson a week later. “His eye is still closed. He doesn’t sleep much, and his chest hurts when he breathes.” This was when the violence started.
No. In February 1942, Patrolman Edward Bender shot his second black victim, Thomas Broadus, as he fled. His friends rushed over to take him to the hospital. Bender blocked them, and Broadus died in the street before “scores of persons,” according to the Afro. This was when the violence began.
No—it was before that. Officer Charles Harris shot Roland Freeman dead on November 14, 1931. On March 29, 1930, the Afro wrote that “Officer Herman Trautner, white, killed Roosevelt Yates, an unarmed man he was seeking to arrest.” “The trouble is police brutality in Baltimore has gone as far as some people are going to stand,” the paper warned, 85 years ago.
That same year it profiled Rev. E. W. White, pastor of the Provident Baptist Church. “Baptist Minister Says Brutality Surpasses Anything South Has Seen,” ran the headline. Two decades earlier, in 1911, the Afro alerted readers that cops were “shooing colored people out of neighborhoods where a majority of the residents are white.” “It is just this kind of conduct,” a 1906 story on a mass arrest of blacks affirmed, “that often makes well-disposed people do what under other circumstances they would not do.”
“To us,” Baltimore resident D. Watkins explained this week, the city’s “Police Department is a group of terrorists;” major news outlets, on violence in Baltimore, recall the fish in the joke. “How’s the water?” the fisherman asks. “What’s water?” replies the fish, oblivious to what makes its world—like the establishment media, unaware of the violence shaping theirs.
Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Washington Post “Fact Checker” columnist Glenn Kessler chastises Iran’s Foreign Minister for saying that Israel has 400 nuclear weapons.
Specifically, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said: “It’s laughable that Netanyahu has become everybody’s nonproliferation guru. He is sitting on 400 nuclear warheads, nuclear warheads that have been acquired in violation of the NPT.”
In an otherwise valuable article, Kessler uses omission to make the claim of 400 nuclear weapons sound unwarranted, concluding “… his figure is more than double the median for the most recent estimate, and five times higher than another credible estimate. Zarif could make his political point without inflating the numbers. He earns Two Pinocchios.”
However, it appears that perhaps the Pinocchios should actually go to Kessler himself for omitting reports on the subject that didn’t fit his own views, thus skewing the numbers.
For instance, A 2009 study by U.S. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies stated that an Israeli “stockpile of up to 300-400 weapons is possible.”
A report by Col. Warren Farr from the United States Air Force Center for Unconventional Weapons Studies stated that in 1997 Israel had “400 deliverable thermonuclear and nuclear weapons.”
An Israeli analyst wrote in 2012 that Israel has 100-400 nuclear warheads.
In a 2012 Time Magazine interview, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter placed the number at “around 300” nuclear weapons.
The Israel Country Study Guide, Volume 1 Strategic Information and Developments, states: “Israel nuclear might is commonly estimated as moving between 200 to 400 nuclear warheads.”
The U.K. Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament reports on its website: “Israel is thought to have between 100 and 400 nuclear weapons.”
And Middle East expert Juan Cole wrote in 2012, “Israel is thought to have 400 atom bombs.”
I could go on and on.
Given this expanded context, Zarif’s claim no longer looks as outlandish as Kessler makes it out to be. In fact, many others say the same thing.
Two Pinocchios for Glenn Kessler.
Alison Weir is the president of the Council for the National Interest and executive director of If Americans Knew. She is the author of Against Our Better Judgment: How the US was Used to Create Israel.
Baltimore, Md. – In a bombshell revelation, Donta Allen, the man that was in the police transport van at the same time as Freddie Gray, spoke out for the first time publicly and directly refuted information leaked by police.
Allen came forward after an internal investigative memo was leaked by police and subsequently published by the Washington Post on Wednesday. The document claimed that Allen had told police Gray “was intentionally trying to injure himself,” which according to Allen was an attempt to spin his words to make it seem as if Gray may have injured himself.
“They trying to make it seem like I told them that, you know what I mean, that Freddie Gray did that to himself,” Allen said. “Why the f*** would he do that to himself?”
Allen’s words are being intentionally distorted in an effort to exonerate the police of any culpability or wrongdoing while seemingly laying the blame on the victim.
When asked whether he heard Gray banging his head while in the van, Allen said,
“When I got in the van, I didn’t hear nothing. It was a smooth ride. We went straight to the police station. All I heard was a little banging for about four seconds. I just heard little banging, just little banging.”
Allen went on to say,
“I told homicide that I don’t work for the police. I did not tell the police nothing.”
This contradicts police assertions, as claimed in a search warrant affidavit, that Allen claimed Gray was “banging against the walls” of the van.
Allen claims that authorities are using him as a scapegoat to provide cover for their actions relating to the incident.
“They waited 30 to 35 minutes to get [Gray] some medical attention because they want to cover their ass,” Allen told WBAL-TV. “So now, since they can’t cover their ass on that, they’re trying to use me to cover their ass.”
Numerous law enforcement sources have told WJLA-TV that Gray suffered a “catastrophic injury” when he smashed his own back into the van and broke his neck. Additionally, a bolt in the van matched his head injury, according to the sources.
The autopsy of Gray showed no evidence that there were any self-inflicted wounds, and that the fatal spinal and neck injuries were consistent with the force and energy presented in a car accident.
What is clear is that the Baltimore Police Department thought they could use the police spin machine to lay the blame for Gray’s death somewhere other than themselves as a means of escaping accountability.
Leaked Document Published by WaPo Suggesting Freddie Gray Killed Himself Disputed by Baltimore TV Reporter
More than two weeks after Baltimore police arrested Freddie Gray, they leaked a document to the Washington Post suggesting that the 25-year-old man killed himself, basing that speculation on statements from an unnamed inmate who was also in the van with Gray, but sitting handcuffed on the other side of the van, separated by a metal partition that does not allow visibility.
But the report was quickly disputed by investigative reporter Jayne Miller from WBAL-TV, who has been reporting on this story from the beginning.
And it is being doubted by hundreds of readers leaving comments on Peter Hermann’s article in the Washington Post, which stated the following.
A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself,” according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.
The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate’s safety.
The document, written by a Baltimore police investigator, offers the first glimpse of what might have happened inside the van. It is not clear whether any additional evidence backs up the prisoner’s version, which is just one piece of a much larger probe.
Miller was interviewed on MSNBC shortly after the article was posted, saying that her station was aware of this document, but never reported on it because it did not correlate with the timeline they had compiled. She also pointed out that Police Commissioner Anthony Batts had previously stated that Gray was already unresponsive when the second suspect was placed into the van.
But the story that Gray was responsible for his own death is something that has been making the rounds on social media, including from a Baltimore police detective named Avi Tasher who made the claim on Facebook last weekend, only to shut down his page after backlash from critics as we reported here.
Tasher, whose nickname within the department is Taser because he is so quick to use it on suspects, and who might be the “police investigator” described in the Washington Post’s story, stated the following on Facebook Saturday night:
Then there was Henry Mack III, both a Baltimore Ravens cheerleader as well as a Baltimore police cheerleader, who tweeted the following to the Baltimore Sun a few days earlier:
So it’s obvious police have been trying to push this narrative for a while, only for it to be ignored by the Baltimore media.
But somehow they got the Washington Post to bite.
The van driver stopped three times while transporting Gray to a booking center, the first to put him in leg irons. Batts said the officer driving the van described Gray as “irate.” The search warrant application says Gray “continued to be combative in the police wagon.”
The driver made a second stop, five minutes later, and asked an officer to help check on Gray. At that stop, police have said the van driver found Gray on the floor of the van and put him back on the seat, still without restraints. Police said Gray asked for medical help at that point.
The third stop was to put the other prisoner — a 38-year-old man accused of violating a protective order — into the van. The van was then driven six blocks to the Western District station. Gray was taken from there to a hospital, where he died April 19.
The prisoner, who is in jail, could not be reached for comment. No one answered the phone at his house, and an attorney was not listed in court records.
Batts has said officers violated policy by failing to properly restrain Gray. But the president of the Baltimore police union noted that the policy mandating seat belts took effect April 3 and was e-mailed to officers as part of a package of five policy changes on April 9, three days before Gray was arrested.
Gene Ryan, the police union president, said many officers aren’t reading the new policies – updated to meet new national standards – because they think they’re the same rules they already know, with only cosmetic changes. The updates are supposed to be read out during pre-shift meetings.
The previous policy was written in 1997, when the department used smaller, boxier wagons that officers called “ice cream trucks.” They originally had a metal bar that prisoners had to hold during the ride. Seat belts were added later, but the policy left their use discretionary.
There are many questions that arise from the claims by police, but here are just a few. I’m sure more will be asked in the comments section.
- If it it were true that Gray was responsible for his own death, then why not just say that from the beginning?
- Why haven’t doctors mentioned injuries consistent with “smashing his head into the wall repeatedly,” instead of just saying he died of a severed spine and crushed voice box, the latter which is more consistent with a knee to the neck?
- Wouldn’t those injuries be visible during an open-casket funeral?
- Did police intimidate or offer a deal to the inmate to write those words on the document?
On Sunday evening, CBS’s “60 Minutes” presented what was pitched as a thorough examination of the infamous sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21, 2013, with anchor Scott Pelley asserting that “none of what we found will be omitted here.” But the segment – while filled with emotional scenes of dead and dying Syrians – made little effort to determine who was responsible.
Pelley’s team stuck to the conventional wisdom from the rush-to-judgment “white paper” that the White House issued on Aug. 30, 2013, just nine days after the incident, blaming the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. But Pelley ignored contrary evidence that has emerged in the 20 months since the attack, including what I’ve been told are dissenting views among U.S. intelligence analysts.
The segment also played games with the chronology of the United Nations inspectors who had been invited to Damascus by Assad to investigate what he claimed were earlier chemical attacks carried out by Syrian rebels, a force dominated by Islamic extremists, including Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the even more brutal Islamic State.
Though Pelley starts the segment by interviewing a Syrian who claimed he witnessed a sarin attack in Moadamiya, a suburb south of Damascus, Pelley leaves out the fact that Moadimiya was the first area examined by the UN inspectors and that their field tests found no evidence of sarin. Nor does Pelley note that UN laboratories also found no sarin or other chemical agents on the one missile that the inspectors recovered from Moadamiya.
The two labs did have a dispute over whether trace elements of some chemicals found in Moadamiya might have been degraded sarin. But those disputed positives made no sense because when the UN inspectors went to the eastern suburb of Zamalka two and three days later, their field equipment immediately registered positive for sarin and the two labs confirmed the presence of actual sarin.
So, if the sarin had not degraded in Zamalka, why would it have degraded sooner in Moadamiya? The logical explanation is that there was no sarin associated with the Moadamiya rocket but the UN laboratories were under intense pressure from the United States to come up with something incriminating that would bolster the initial U.S. rush to judgment.
The absence of actual sarin from the rocket that struck Moadamiya also raises questions about the credibility of Pelley’s first witness. Or possibly a conventional rocket assault on the area ruptured some kind of chemical containers that led panicked victims to believe they too were under a chemical attack.
That seemed to be a working hypothesis among some U.S. intelligence analysts even as early as the Aug. 30, 2013 “white paper,” which was called a U.S. “Government Assessment,” an unusual document that seemed to ape the form of a “National Intelligence Estimate,” which would reflect the consensus view of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and include analytical dissents.
By going with this new creation – a “Government Assessment,” which was released by the White House press office, not the Office of Director of National Intelligence – the State Department, which was then itching for war with Syria, got to exclude any dissents to the hasty conclusions. But the intelligence analysts managed to embed one dissent as a cutline to a map which was included with the “white paper.”
The cutline read: “Reports of chemical attacks originating from some locations may reflect the movement of patients exposed in one neighborhood to field hospitals and medical facilities in the surrounding area. They may also reflect confusion and panic triggered by the ongoing artillery and rocket barrage, and reports of chemical use in other neighborhoods.”
In other words, some U.S. intelligence analysts were already questioning the assumption of a widespread chemical rocket assault on the Damascus suburbs – and the strongest argument for the State Department’s finger-pointing at Assad’s military was the supposedly large number of rockets carrying sarin.
Possible ‘False Flag’
However, if there had been only one sarin-laden rocket, i.e., the one that landed in Zamalka, then the suspicion could shift to a provocation – or “false-flag” attack – carried out by Islamic extremists with the goal of tricking the U.S. military into destroying Assad’s army and essentially opening the gates of Damascus to a victory by Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.
That was what investigative journalist Seymour Hersh concluded in ground-breaking articles describing the alleged role of Turkish intelligence in assisting these Islamic extremists in securing the necessary materials and expertise to produce a crude form of sarin.
In December 2013, Hersh reported that he found a deep schism within the U.S. intelligence community over how the case was sold to pin the blame on Assad. Hersh wrote that he encountered “intense concern, and on occasion anger” when he interviewed American intelligence and military experts “over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence.”
According to Hersh, “One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote.
“A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening.
“The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy.”
Despite Hersh’s legendary reputation dating back to the My Lai massacre story during the Vietnam War and revelations about CIA abuses in the 1970s, his first 5,500-word article — as well as a second article — appeared in the London Review of Books, a placement that suggests the American media’s “group think” blaming the Assad regime remained hostile to any serious dissent on this topic.
Much of the skepticism about the Obama administration’s case on the Syrian sarin attack has been confined to the Internet, including our own Consortiumnews.com. Indeed, Hersh’s article dovetailed with much of what we had reported in August and September of 2013 as we questioned the administration’s certainty that Assad’s regime was responsible.
Our skepticism flew in the face of a “group think” among prominent opinion leaders who joined in the stampede toward war with Syria much as they did in Iraq a decade earlier. War was averted only because President Barack Obama was informed about the intelligence doubts and because Russian President Vladimir Putin helped arrange a compromise in which Assad agreed to surrender his entire chemical weapons arsenal, while still denying any role in the sarin attack.
A Short-Range Rocket
Later, when rocket scientists — Theodore A. Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Richard M. Lloyd, an analyst at the military contractor Tesla Laboratories — analyzed the one home-made, sarin-laden rocket that landed in Zamalka, they concluded that it could have traveled only about two to three kilometers, meaning that it would have been fired from an area controlled by the rebels, not the government.
That finding destroyed a conclusion reached by Human Rights Watch and the New York Times, which vectored the suspected paths of the two rockets — one from Moadamiya and one from Zamalka — to where the two lines intersected at a Syrian military base about 9.5 kilometers from the points of impact. Not only did the vectoring make no sense because only the Zamalka rocket was found to contain sarin but the rocket experts concluded that it couldn’t even fly a third of the way from the military base to where it landed.
After touting its original Assad-did-it claim on the front page on Sept. 17, 2013, the Times snuck its retraction below the fold on page 8 in an article published on Dec. 29, 2013, between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
But none of these doubts were examined in any way in Pelley’s “60 Minutes” presentation. Instead, Pelley simply pointed the finger at the Syrian government, citing U.S. intelligence. Pelley said: “The rockets were types used by the Syrian army and they were launched from land held by the dictatorship. U.S. intelligence believes the Syrian army used sarin in frustration after years of shelling and hunger failed to break the rebels.”
Pelley did note one anomaly to the conventional wisdom: Why would Assad have ordered a chemical attack outside Damascus after inviting in a team of UN inspectors to examine another site? Pelley then shrugs off that contradiction while offering no alternative scenario and leaving the clear impression that the attack was carried out by the Syrian government.
When I asked the Office of Director of National Intelligence about the “60 Minutes” segment, spokesperson Kathleen C. Butler responded with this e-mailed response: “The intelligence community assess[es] with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013. The intelligence community assesses that the scenario in which the opposition executed the attack on August 21 is highly unlikely.”
In a subsequent e-mail, she added that there was “full consensus on the assessment.” [For more details on the sarin incident, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]
Clueless over Iraq
Pelley has built a highly successful CBS career by always parroting the official line of the U.S. government no matter how obviously false it is. For instance, in 2008, he conducted an interview with FBI interrogator George Piro who had questioned Iraq’s Saddam Hussein before his execution.
Pelley wondered why Hussein had kept pretending that he had weapons of mass destruction when a simple acknowledgement that they had been destroyed would have spared his country the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
“For a man who drew America into two wars and countless military engagements, we never knew what Saddam Hussein was thinking,” Pelley said in introducing the segment on the interrogation of Hussein about his WMD stockpiles. “Why did he choose war with the United States?”
The segment never mentioned the fact that Hussein’s government did disclose that it had eliminated its WMD, including a 12,000-page submission to the UN on Dec. 7, 2002, explaining how its WMD stockpiles had been destroyed. In fall 2002, Hussein’s government also allowed teams of UN inspectors into Iraq and gave them free rein to examine any site of their choosing.
Those inspections only ended in March 2003 when President George W. Bush decided to press ahead with war despite the UN Security Council’s refusal to authorize the invasion and its desire to give the UN inspectors time to finish their work.
But none of that reality was part of the faux history that Pelley delivered to the American public. He preferred the officially sanctioned U.S. account, as embraced by Bush in speech after speech, that Saddam Hussein “chose war” by defying the UN over the WMD issue and by misleading the world into believing that he still possessed these weapons.
In line with Bush’s made-up version of history, Pelley pressed Piro on the question of why Hussein was hiding the fact that Iraq no longer had WMD. Piro said Hussein explained to him that “most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s, and those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq.”
“So,” Pelley asked, “why keep the secret? Why put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?”
After Piro mentioned Hussein’s lingering fear of neighboring Iran, Pelley felt he was close to an answer to the mystery: “He believed that he couldn’t survive without the perception that he had weapons of mass destruction?”
But, still, Pelley puzzled over why Hussein’s continued in his miscalculation. Pelley asked: “As the U.S. marched toward war and we began massing troops on his border, why didn’t he stop it then? And say, ‘Look, I have no weapons of mass destruction,’ I mean, how could he have wanted his country to be invaded?”
On Sunday, Pelley was reprising that role as the ingénue foreign correspondent trying to decipher the mysterious ways of the Orient.
Just as Pelley couldn’t figure why Hussein had “wanted his country to be invaded” — when no one at “60 Minutes” thought to mention that Hussein and his government had fully disclosed their lack of WMD to save their country from being invaded — Pelley couldn’t fully comprehend why the Assad regime would have launched a sarin gas attack with UN inspectors sitting in Damascus.
The possibility that the attack actually was a provocation by Al-Qaeda or Islamic State extremists — who have demonstrated their lack of compassion for innocents and who had a clear motive for getting the U.S. military to bomb Assad’s army — was something that Pelley couldn’t process. The calculation was too much for him even after last week’s disclosure that Syrian rebels had staged a 2013 kidnapping/rescue of NBC’s correspondent Richard Engel, whose abduction was falsely blamed on Assad’ allies.
Inviting a Massacre
Besides being an example of shallow reporting and shoddy journalism – using highly emotional scenes while failing to seriously investigate who was responsible – the “60 Minutes” episode could also be a prelude to a far worse human rights crime, which could follow the defeat of the Syrian army and a victory by Al-Qaeda or its spin-off, the Islamic State.
Right now, the only effective fighting force holding off that victory – and the very real possibility of a massacre of Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other religious minorities – is the Syrian army. Some of those Syrian Christians, now allied with Assad, are ethnic Armenians whose ancestors fled the Turkish genocide a century ago.
The recent high-profile comment by Pope Francis about the Armenian genocide can be understood in the context of the impending danger to the survivors’ descendants if the head-chopping Islamic State prevails in the Syrian civil war, the possibility that these Sunni extremists backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia might finish the job that the Ottoman Empire began a century ago.
Yet, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the American neocons are still set on the overthrow of the Assad government and continue to pretend that Obama could have averted the Syrian crisis if he had only bombed or invaded Syria several years ago.
The Washington Post’s neocon editorial page editor Fred Hiatt recited that theme in an op-ed on Monday that made a major point out of the Assad government’s alleged use of something called “barrel bombs” — as if some crude explosive device is somehow less humane than the more sophisticated weapons that were used to slaughter countless innocents by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel in Gaza and Lebanon and now Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
“Obama could have destroyed Assad’s helicopters or given the resistance the weapons to do so,” Hiatt said, arguing the neocon assertion that to have intervened earlier would have somehow prevented the rise of Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State. But that is another simplistic argument since there were terrorist elements in the Syrian civil war from the beginning and many of the so-called “moderates” who were trained and armed by the United States have since joined forces with the extremists. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Syrian Rebels Embrace Al-Qaeda.”]
The key question for Syria’s future is how can a realistic political settlement be reached between Assad’s government and whatever reasonable opposition remains. But such a complex and difficult solution is not advanced by irresponsible journalism at CBS and the Washington Post.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
If two major newspapers in, say, Russia published major articles openly advocating the unprovoked bombing of a country, say, Israel, the U.S. government and news media would be aflame with denunciations about “aggression,” “criminality,” “madness,” and “behavior not fitting the Twenty-first Century.”
But when the newspapers are American – the New York Times and the Washington Post – and the target country is Iran, no one in the U.S. government and media bats an eye. These inflammatory articles – these incitements to murder and violation of international law – are considered just normal discussion in the Land of Exceptionalism.
On Thursday, the New York Times printed an op-ed that urged the bombing of Iran as an alternative to reaching a diplomatic agreement that would sharply curtail Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that it was used only for peaceful purposes. The Post published a similar “we-must-bomb-Iran” op-ed two weeks ago.
The Times’ article by John Bolton, a neocon scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, was entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” It followed the Post’s op-ed by Joshua Muravchik, formerly at AEI and now a fellow at the neocon-dominated School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. [For more on that piece, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocon Admits Plan to Bomb Iran.”]
Both articles called on the United States to mount a sustained bombing campaign against Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities and to promote “regime change” in Tehran. Ironically, these “scholars” rationalized their calls for unprovoked aggression against Iran under the theory that Iran is an aggressive state, although Iran has not invaded another country for centuries.
Bolton, who served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, based his call for war on the possibility that if Iran did develop a nuclear bomb – which Iran denies seeking and which the U.S. intelligence community agrees Iran is not building – such a hypothetical event could touch off an arms race in the Middle East.
Curiously, Bolton acknowledged that Israel already has developed an undeclared nuclear weapons arsenal outside international controls, but he didn’t call for bombing Israel. He wrote blithely that “Ironically perhaps, Israel’s nuclear weapons have not triggered an arms race. Other states in the region understood — even if they couldn’t admit it publicly — that Israel’s nukes were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure.”
How Bolton manages to read the minds of Israel’s neighbors who have been at the receiving end of Israeli invasions and other cross-border attacks is not explained. Nor does he address the possibility that Israel’s possession of some 200 nuclear bombs might be at the back of the minds of Iran’s leaders if they do press ahead for a nuclear weapon.
Nor does Bolton explain his assumption that if Iran were to build one or two bombs that it would use them aggressively, rather than hold them as a deterrent. He simply asserts: “Iran is a different story. Extensive progress in uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing reveal its ambitions.”
Pulling Back on Refinement
But is that correct? In its refinement of uranium, Iran has not progressed toward the level required for a nuclear weapon since its 2013 interim agreement with the global powers known as “the p-5 plus one” – for the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Instead, Iran has dialed back the level of refinement to below 5 percent (what’s needed for generating electricity) from its earlier level of 20 percent (needed for medical research) — compared with the 90-plus percent purity to build a nuclear weapon.
In other words, rather than challenging the “red line” of uranium refinement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew during a United Nations speech in 2012, the Iranians have gone in the opposite direction – and they have agreed to continue those constraints if a permanent agreement is reached with the p-5-plus-1.
However, instead of supporting such an agreement, American neocons – echoing Israeli hardliners – are demanding war, followed by U.S. subversion of Iran’s government through the financing of an internal opposition for a coup or a “colored revolution.”
Bolton wrote: “An attack need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”
But one should remember that neocon schemes – drawn up at their think tanks and laid out on op-ed pages – don’t always unfold as planned. Since the 1990s, the neocons have maintained a list of countries considered troublesome for Israel and thus targeted for “regime change,” including Iraq, Syria and Iran. In 2003, the neocons got their chance to invade Iraq, but the easy victory that they predicted didn’t exactly pan out.
Still, the neocons never revise their hit list. They just keep coming up with more plans that, in total, have thrown much of the Middle East, northern Africa and now Ukraine into bloodshed and chaos. In effect, the neocons have joined Israel in its de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia for a Sunni sectarian conflict against the Shiites and their allies. Much like the Saudis, Israeli officials rant against the so-called “Shiite crescent” from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Congress Cheers Netanyahu’s Hatred of Iran.”]
Since Iran is considered the most powerful Shiite nation and is allied with Syria, which is governed by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, both countries have remained in the neocons’ crosshairs. But the neocons don’t actually pull the trigger themselves. Their main role is to provide the emotional and political arguments to get the American people to hand over their tax money and their children to fight these wars.
The neocons are so confident in their skills at manipulating the U.S. decision-making process that some have gone so far as to suggest Americans should side with al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria or the even more brutal Islamic State, because those groups love killing Shiites and thus are considered the most effective fighters against Iran’s allies. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism.”]
The New York Times’ star neocon columnist Thomas L. Friedman ventured to the edge of madness as he floated the idea of the U.S. arming the head-chopping Islamic State, writing this month: “Now I despise ISIS as much as anyone, but let me just toss out a different question: Should we be arming ISIS?”
I realize the New York Times and Washington Post are protected by the First Amendment and can theoretically publish whatever they want. But the truth is that the newspapers are extremely restrictive in what they print. Their op-ed pages are not just free-for-alls for all sorts of opinions.
For instance, neither newspaper would publish a story that urged the United States to launch a bombing campaign to destroy Israel’s actual nuclear arsenal as a step toward creating a nuclear-free Middle East. That would be considered outside responsible thought and reasonable debate.
However, when it comes to advocating a bombing campaign against Iran’s peaceful nuclear program, the two newspapers are quite happy to publish such advocacy. The Times doesn’t even blush when one of its most celebrated columnists mulls over the idea of sending weapons to the terrorists in ISIS – all presumably because Israel has identified “the Shiite crescent” as its current chief enemy and the Islamic State is on the other side.
But beyond the hypocrisy and, arguably, the criminality of these propaganda pieces, there is also the neocon record of miscalculation. Remember how the invasion of Iraq was supposed to end with Iraqis tossing rose petals at the American soldiers instead of planting “improvised explosive devices” – and how the new Iraq was to become a model pluralistic democracy?
Well, why does one assume that the same geniuses who were so wrong about Iraq will end up being right about Iran? What if the bombing and the subversion don’t lead to nirvana in Iran? Isn’t it just as likely, if not more so, that Iran would react to this aggression by deciding that it needed nuclear bombs to deter further aggression and to protect its sovereignty and its people?
In other words, might the scheming by Bolton and Muravchik — as published by the New York Times and the Washington Post — produce exactly the result that they say they want to prevent? But don’t worry. If the neocons’ new schemes don’t pan out, they’ll just come up with more.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
The Washington Post has this dramatic headline: Global warming is now slowing down the circulation of the ocean with potentially dire consequences.
A new paper has been published that has the media talking about The Day After Tomorrow [link]. What is this new paper?
Exceptional twentieth-century slowdown in Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation
Stefan Rahmstorf, Jason E. Box, Georg Feulner, Michael E. Mann, Alexander Robinson, Scott Rutherford & Erik J. Schaffernicht
Abstract. Possible changes in Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) provide a key source of uncertainty regarding future climate change. Maps of temperature trends over the twentieth century show a conspicuous region of cooling in the northern Atlantic. Here we present multiple lines of evidence suggesting that this cooling may be due to a reduction in the AMOC over the twentieth century and particularly after 1970. Since 1990 the AMOC seems to have partly recovered. This time evolution is consistently suggested by an AMOC index based on sea surface temperatures, by the hemispheric temperature difference, by coral-based proxies and by oceanic measurements. We discuss a possible contribution of the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet to the slowdown. Using a multi-proxy temperature reconstruction for the AMOC index suggests that the AMOC weakness after 1975 is an unprecedented event in the past millennium (p > 0.99). Further melting of Greenland in the coming decades could contribute to further weakening of the AMOC.
Stefan Rahmstorf has a post at RealClimate Whats going on in the North Atlantic? Excerpt:
The North Atlantic between Newfoundland and Ireland is practically the only region of the world that has defied global warming and even cooled. Last winter there even was the coldest on record – while globally it was the hottest on record. Our recent study (Rahmstorf et al. 2015) attributes this to a weakening of the Gulf Stream System, which is apparently unique in the last thousand years.
Climate models have long predicted such a slowdown – both the current 5th and the previous 4th IPCC report call a slowdown in this century “very likely”, which means at least 90% probability. When emissions continue unabated (RCP8.5 scenario), the IPCC expects 12% to 54% decline by 2100. But the actual past evolution of the flow is difficult to reconstruct owing to the scarcity of direct measurements.
What is new is that we have used proxy reconstructions of large-scale surface temperature (Mann et al, 2009) previously published by one of us that extend back to 900 AD to estimate the circulation (AMOC) intensity over the entire last 1100 years. This shows that despite the substantial uncertainties in the proxy reconstruction, the weakness of the flow after 1975 is unique in more than a thousand years, with at least 99 per cent probability. This strongly suggests that the weak overturning is not due to natural variability but rather a result of global warming.
Well, if there is anything I distrust more than climate model simulations of decadal to millennial scale ocean circulations and internal variability, it is Mannian proxy analysis of same. It seems like strip bark bristlecones and Tiljander sediments can tell us about Gulf Stream flow rates, as well as global temperatures. Remarkable.
So what do the actual ocean observations have to say? Anthony Watts has an extensive critique of the paper, pointing to a 2014 paper by oceanographer Thomas Rossby: On the long-term stability of Gulf Stream transport based on 20 years of direct measurements. The title pretty much speaks for itself, but Rossby had this to say in an interview:
“The ADCP measures currents at very high accuracy, and so through the repeat measurements we take year after year, we have a very powerful tool by which to monitor the strength of the current,” said Rossby. “There are variations of the current over time that are natural — and yes, we need to understand these better — but we find absolutely no evidence that suggests that the Gulf Stream is slowing down.”
In 2010, NASA issued a press release NASA Study Finds Atlantic Conveyor Belt Not Slowing, citing a paper published by Josh Willis of JPL using measurements from ocean-observing satellites and profiling floats. Punchline:
For now, however, there are no signs of a slowdown in the circulation. “The changes we’re seeing in overturning strength are probably part of a natural cycle,” said Willis. “The slight increase in overturning since 1993 coincides with a decades-long natural pattern of Atlantic heating and cooling.”
Pierre Gosselin cites additional critiques from German scientists. Notably:
Climate scientist Martin Visbeck of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel sees Rahmstorf’s assertion of the results critically: ‘The study’s focus on the sub-polar part of the Atlantic and the spectral analysis are interesting,’ he says. But there are other AMOC assessments that point to a completely other development. The paper does not offer any strong indication of the development of the AMOC during the past fifty years.”
So, who you gonna believe? Climate models and Mannian proxies, or direct and satellite observations of ocean circulation?
Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation
What is going on the high latitudes of the North Atlantic can’t be understood without the context of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. If you are unfamiliar with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), see this summary. For reference, the AMO figures prominently in the stadium wave. While the method to define the AMO is still debated, here I show the canonical analyses from NOAA.
The monthly values of the AMO are shown below.
A blow up of the more recent data (through Dec 2014) is shown below:
While the AMO index shows substantial variability, there are multi-decadal periods when the index is predominantly positive (warm) and negative (cool). To the extend that past behavior is any guide to the future, the current warm phase is expected to transition to the cool phase sometime in the 2020’s. While the the 1995 transition was sharp, the transition to the next cool phase might be sharp, or it might ‘flicker’ for a few years or even a decade. We’ll have to see how this plays out.
There is some evidence that the warm phase of the AMO has peaked circa 2007, see the upper ocean heat content data shown below.
What we are seeing in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic is natural variability, predominantly associated with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Based upon observational analyses, there is no sign of a slowdown in the Gulf Stream or the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.
Now, I am very interested in the AMO, since it strongly influences Atlantic hurricanes, Arctic sea ice, and Greenland climate. We are already seeing a recovery of the Atlantic sector of the Arctic sea ice, and some hints of cooling in Greenland.
With regards to Atlantic hurricanes, Bill Gray and Phil Klotzbach are looking at a new definition of the AMO that they feel relates better to Atlantic hurricane activity [link], and they are seeing a transition to negative values.
And finally, the AMO does not act in isolation (e.g. the stadium wave); there are very interesting things going on in the Pacific also – perhaps a topic for a future post.
The “Free Press” in Action
In Latin America last year, there were two events that each produced 43 casualties. Which elicited greater outrage?
For the U.S. media, it was the “violent crackdown” leaving “43 people dead” (NPR) in “an autocratic, despotic state” (New York Times ) run by “extremists” (Washington Post ). Surely these charges were leveled at Mexico, where 43 student activists were murdered in Iguala last September. In their forthcoming A Narco History, Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace describe how the victims, “packed into two pick-up trucks,” were driven to a desolate ravine. Over a dozen “died en route, apparently from asphyxiation,” and the rest “were shot, one after another,” around 2:00 a.m. The killers tossed the corpses into a gorge, torched them, and maintained the fire “through the night and into the following afternoon,” leaving only “ashes and bits of bone, which were then pulverized.”
Initial blame went to local forces—Iguala’s mayor and his wife, area police and drug gangs. But reporters Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher, after reviewing thousands of pages of official documents, reached a different conclusion. Hernández explained “that the federal police and the federal government [were] also involved,” both “in the attack” and in “monitoring the students” the night of the slaughter. Fisher added that the Mexican government based its account of the massacre on testimonies of “witnesses who had been directly tortured.”
The Hernández-Fisher findings reflect broader problems plaguing the country. “Torture and ill-treatment in Mexico is out of control with a 600 per cent rise in the number of reported cases in the past decade,” Amnesty International warned last September, pointing to “a prevailing culture of tolerance and impunity.” The UN concurred this month, and “sharply rebuked Mexico for its widespread problem with torture, which it said implicates all levels of the security apparatus,” Jo Tuckman wrote in the Guardian.
Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has done his part to escalate state violence. He gave the orders, while governor of México State, for what Francisco Goldman calls “one of the most squalid instances of government brutality in recent years”—the May 2006 assault on the Atenco municipality. Some 3,500 state police rampaged against 300 flower vendors, peasants and their sympathizers, beating them until they blacked out and isolating women for special treatment. Amnesty International reported “23 cases of sexual violence during the operation,” including one woman a trio of policemen surrounded. “All three of them raped her with their fingers,” a witness recalled.
Peña Nieto responded by asserting “that the manuals of radical groups say that in the case of women [if they are arrested], they should say they’ve been raped.” Amnesty stumbled into a trap laid by attention-desperate women, in his opinion. Regarding Atenco, he stressed: “It was a decision that I made personally to reestablish order and peace, and I made it with the legitimate use of force that corresponds to the state.” Surely this is the “autocratic, despotic state” the New York Times criticized.
The paper’s archives lay bare its views—that Peña Nieto can “do a lot of good,” given his “big promises of change” and “commendable” economic agenda. The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth interviewed Mexico’s president just before the Iguala bloodbath, dubbing him “a hero in the financial world.” A Post editorial praised his ability to summon the “courage” necessary to transform Mexico into “a model of how democracy can serve a developing country.” The Post clarified, with a straight face, that Peña Nieto displayed his bravery by ignoring “lackluster opinion polls” as he pushed through unpopular reforms—a truly “functional democracy,” without question. There was no serious censure of the Mexican president in these papers, in other words. The charges of despotism and extremism, quoted above, were in fact leveled at Venezuela—the site of the other episode last year resulting in 43 Latin American casualties.
But these demonstrations, from February until July, were dramatically different from the Mexican student incineration. What, in the NPR version, was “a violent crackdown last year against antigovernment protesters,” in fact—on planet Earth—was a mix of “pro- and anti-government protests” (Amnesty International) that “left 43 people dead in opposing camps” (Financial Times ). “There are deaths on both sides of the political spectrum,” Jake Johnston, a researcher with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, affirmed, noting that “members of Venezuelan security forces have been implicated and subsequently arrested for their involvement.” He added that several people were apparently “killed by crashing into barricades, from wires strung across streets by protesters and in some cases from having been shot trying to remove barricades.” Half a dozen National Guardsmen died.
In the wake of these demonstrations, the Post railed against “economically illiterate former bus driver” Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, for his “hard-fisted response to the unrest” and “violent repression.” The New York Times lamented his “government’s abuses”—which “are dangerous for the region and certainly warrant strong criticism from Latin American leaders”—while Obama, a year after the protests, declared Venezuela a national security threat. His March 9 executive order, William Neuman wrote in the Times, targets “any American assets belonging to seven Venezuelan law enforcement and military officials who it said were linked to human rights violations.”
Compare Obama’s condemnation of Maduro to his reaction to the Iguala murders. When asked, in mid-December, whether U.S. aid to Mexico should be conditioned on human rights, he emphasized that “the best thing we can do is to be a good partner”—since bloodshed there “does affect us,” after all. The Times followed up after Obama hosted the Mexican president at the White House on January 6, noting that “Mr. Peña Nieto’s visit to Washington came at a time of increased cooperation between the United States and Mexico.”
This cooperation has won some major victories over the decades. NAFTA shattered poor farming communities in Mexico, for example, while promoting deforestation, environmentally ruinous mining—and corporate profits. In 2007, U.S. official Thomas Shannon stated that “armoring NAFTA” is the goal of Washington’s security assistance, which “totaled $2.5 billion between FY2008 and FY2015,” the Congressional Research Service reported. The result is a death zone, with perhaps some 120,000 intentional killings during the Felipe Calderón presidency (2006-2012). Tijuana’s Zeta Magazine published a study claiming the slayings have actually increased under Peña Nieto, and the nightmare has deepened to the point where the murder rate “exceeds that of Iraq,” according to Molly Molloy.
None of these developments infuriated Washington like those in Venezuela, to be sure. After Chávez’s first decade in power, “the poverty rate ha[d] been cut by more than half” and “social spending per person more than tripled,” while unemployment and infant mortality declined, the Center for Economic and Policy Research determined. And the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean found, in May 2010, that Venezuela had the region’s most equal income distribution. In Mexico a year later, the Los Angeles Times noted, “poverty [was] steadily on the rise.” Throughout this period, Washington’s aims included “dividing Chavismo,” “protecting vital US business,” and “isolating Chavez internationally,” as former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield outlined the strategy in 2006.
Reviewing this foreign policy record in light of recent Mexico and Venezuela coverage makes one thing obvious. There is, most definitely, a free press in the U.S.—it’s free to print whatever systematic distortions it likes, so long as these conform to Washington’s aims.
Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Not exactly known for truthfulness, U.S. neocons have been trying to reassure the American people that sinking a negotiated deal with Iran to limit its nuclear program would be a painless proposition, but at least one prominent neocon, Joshua Muravchik, acknowledges that the alternative will be war – and he likes the idea.
On Sunday, the neocon Washington Post allowed Muravchik to use its opinion section to advocate for an aggressive war against Iran – essentially a perpetual U.S. bombing campaign against the country – despite the fact that aggressive war is a violation of international law, condemned by the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal as “the supreme international crime.”
Given that the Post is very restrictive in the op-ed pieces that it prints, it is revealing that advocacy for an unprovoked bombing campaign against Iran is considered within the realm of acceptable opinion. But the truth is that the only difference between Muravchik’s view and the Post’s own editorial stance is that Muravchik lays out the almost certain consequences of sabotaging a diplomatic solution.
In his article headlined “War is the only way to stop Iran” in print editions and “War with Iran is probably our best option” online, Muravchik lets the bloody-thirsty neocon cat out of the bag as he agrees with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hysterical view of Iran but recognizes that killing international negotiations on limiting Iran’s nuclear program would leave open only one realistic option:
“What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. … Sanctions may have induced Iran to enter negotiations, but they have not persuaded it to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons. Nor would the stiffer sanctions that Netanyahu advocates bring a different result. …
“Does this mean that our only option is war? Yes, although an air campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would entail less need for boots on the ground than the war Obama is waging against the Islamic State, which poses far smaller a threat than Iran does. … Wouldn’t destroying much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary.”
Typical of the neocons, Muravchik foresees no problem with his endless bombing war against Iran, including the possibility that Iran, which Western intelligence agencies agree is not working on a bomb, might reverse its course if it faced repeated bombing assaults from the United States.
This neocon-advocated violation of international law also might further undermine hopes of curbing violence in the Middle East and establishing some form of meaningful order there and elsewhere. This neocon view that America can do whatever it wants to whomever it wants might actually push the rest of the world into a coalition against U.S. bullying that could provoke an existential escalation of violence with nuclear weapons coming into play.
Never Seeing Reality
Of course, neocons never foresee problems as they draw up these war plans at their think tanks and discuss them on their op-ed pages. Muravchik, by the way, is a fellow at the neocon-dominated School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins and the Washington Post’s editorial page is run by neocons Fred Hiatt and Jackson Diehl.
But, as U.S. officialdom and the American people should have learned from the Iraq War, neocon schemes often don’t play out quite as well in the real world – not that the neocons seem to care about the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis or the nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers who died fighting in the neocons’ Iraq debacle.
For the neocons, their true guiding star is to enlist the U.S. military as the enforcers of Netanyahu’s strategic vision. If Netanyahu says that Iran – not al-Qaeda and the Islamic State – is the more serious threat then the neocons line up behind that agenda, which also happens to dovetail with the interests of Israel’s new ally, Saudi Arabia.
So, Americans hear lots of scary stories about Iran “gobbling up” its neighbors – as Netanyahu described in his lecture to a joint session of the U.S. Congress this month – even though Iran has not invaded any country for centuries and, indeed, was the target of a Saudi-backed invasion by Iraq in 1980.
Not only did Netanyahu’s wildly exaggerate the danger from Iran but he ignored the fact that Iran’s involvement in Iraq and Syria has come at the invitation of those governments to help fight the terrorists of al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Congress Cheers Netanyahu’s Hatred of Iran.”]
In other words, Iran is on the same side of those conflicts against Sunni terrorists as the United States is. But what we’re seeing now from Israel and the neocons is a determined effort to shift U.S. focus away from combating Sunni terrorists — some backed by Saudi Arabia — and toward essentially taking their side against Iran, Iraq and Syria.
That’s why the neocons are downplaying the atrocities of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State – or for that matter the chopping off of heads by Israel’s Saudi friends – while hyping every complaint they can about Iran. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism.”]
Muravchik favors this reversal of priorities and doesn’t seem to care that a U.S. bombing campaign against Iran would have a destructive impact on Iran’s ability to blunt the advances of the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. The neocons also have been hot for bombing Syria’s military, which along with Iran represents the greatest bulwark against the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
The neocons and Netanyahu seem quite complacent about the prospect of the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front hoisting their black flags over Damascus or even Baghdad. Yet, such a move would almost surely force the U.S. president – whether Barack Obama or his successor – to return to a ground war in the Middle East at enormous cost to the American people.
The obvious alternative to this truly frightening scenario is to complete the international negotiations requiring Iran to accept intrusive inspections to ensure that its nuclear program remains peaceful – and then work with Iran on areas of mutual interests, such as rolling back the advances of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria.
This more rational approach holds out the prospect of achieving some stability in Iraq and – if accompanied by realistic negotiations between Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and his political opponents – reducing the bloodletting in Syria if not ending it.
That pragmatic solution could well be the best result both for the people of the region and for U.S. national interests. But none of that would please Netanyahu and the neocons.