"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Don?t Like the News?

Then Buy Your Own!

Covert manipulation of the Iraqi news media certainly must have seemed like a brilliant idea to some civilian genius in the Pentagon. In a conflict that is costing us billions every week, even the projected cost of $300 million must have seemed cheap. What could possibly go wrong with a plan to pay journalists in Baghdad for favorable coverage of the coalition war effort?

The practical problem with such schemes?as any historian of the Cold War might have told the Bush administration?s eager beavers?is their inevitable exposure. That?s what happened decades ago, when C.I.A.-financed journalists and publications were exposed at home and abroad. Certainly that was the predictable conclusion of this misadventure, too, which relied rather heavily on the tradecraft of inexperienced and arrogant young Republican boobs at an outfit called the Lincoln Group.

Unlike their Cold War forebears, the Lincoln Group flacks couldn?t keep the secret for months, let alone years. But the end result is always the same: international embarrassment and severely diminished credibility.

Paying for favorable news stories is a morally defective strategy as well, of course. The fear of tainting our own democratic process is why the C.I.A. was, from the beginning, legally forbidden from conducting propaganda operations within the United States. Allowing the government to subvert public discourse with dirty money and phony information is a long step toward tyranny.

As explained by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley?who claimed to be unaware of this program, as did Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld?this kind of behavior is inconsistent with our stated mission of promoting freedom and democracy in Iraq, and is ?not the kind of policy we want to pursue.?

Or is it? Unfortunately, much evidence suggests that the Bush administration habitually engages in these unsavory activities. Not so long ago, we learned that government agencies had been paying two friendly conservative opinion columnists, Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, both of whom regularly promote administration policy in print and on the airwaves. But that scandal, however disturbing, cannot compare to what we now know about the domestic propaganda that led to the war in Iraq.

In the Dec. 1 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, James Bamford, one of the nation?s leading intelligence correspondents, exposes how a Pentagon contractor called the Rendon Group funneled alarming disinformation about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction into the news media, both here and abroad. The story begins with the C.I.A.-funded creation of the Iraqi National Congress by Rendon more than a decade ago, as a means to destabilize Saddam Hussein?s regime.

When the C.I.A. no longer trusted the I.N.C. and its dubious leader, Ahmed Chalabi, he moved on to the Pentagon?where he embarked on an even more ambitious and expensive plan to promote an American invasion of Iraq. According to Mr. Bamford, that campaign relied on Iraqi defectors like Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a civil engineer who told frightening stories about Saddam?s concealed chemical, biological and nuclear materials. He claimed to have built secret facilities to hide this imminently threatening arsenal in various wells, palaces, villas and hospitals.

He had also failed a C.I.A. polygraph test, but that didn?t prevent Mr. Chalabi from promoting his tale to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and The New York Times, which published Judith Miller?s version on Dec. 20, 2001. ?An Iraqi Defector Tells of Work on at Least 20 Hidden Weapons Sites,? blared the front-page headline. The rest of the malleable media obediently echoed the Miller story, which was amplified during the following year by the President and his cabinet.

That crass fabrication, as Mr. Bamford explains, was only the beginning of ?a long line of hyped and fraudulent stories that would eventually propel the U.S. into a war with Iraq?the first war based almost entirely on a covert propaganda campaign targeting the media.? American taxpayers paid more than $100 million in secret government contracts that resulted in lies being ?blown back? into our news media.

Given the contempt with which the President and his associates treat the news media, perhaps these scams should come as no surprise. Just the other day, after the Iraqi news payments were revealed, Mr. Rumsfeld complained (again) about coverage of the war. The media, which cannot travel within the country because Iraq is too dangerous, doesn?t report enough good news, he said, and concentrates too much on casualties and killings.

It isn?t hard to imagine that powerful officials frustrated by reality-based reporting, with billions of dollars at their disposal, would be tempted to buy news more to their liking. And if fake news is good enough for the Iraqis, why shouldn?t it be good enough for us?

Luckily, the same incompetence that plagues the war effort also guarantees that this government?s ?secret? propaganda will ultimately be as conspicuous as a bad toupee. Let us hope that Congress will investigate these costly, humiliating and possibly illegal episodes and that the perpetrators will be fully exposed.

That is the only way to remove this stain.

Joe Conason
Date: 12/12/2005
Page: 5

copyright ? 2005 the new york observer, L.P.

Should Israel Give Up Its Nukes?

IN A SUDDEN ATTACK of common sense, a Pentagon-commissioned study released in mid-November suggests an approach to nuclear nonproliferation in the Middle East that might actually be accepted by the people of the region. What is this breakthrough idea? That U.S. policies begin not with a country that currently lacks nuclear weapons ? Iran ? but rather with the one that by virtually all accounts already has them ? Israel.

To avert Iran's apparent drive for nuclear weapons, concludes Henry Sokolski, a co-editor of "Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran," Israel should freeze and begin to dismantle its nuclear capability.

This and other recommendations emerged from two years of deliberations by experts on the Middle East and nuclear nonproliferation.

Limiting the spread of nuclear weapons is a pivotal U.S. foreign policy objective. As the sole nation ever to have employed them, we bear a special responsibility to prevent their use in the future. With regard to the Middle East, we rightly worry not only about the potential use of the weapons themselves but about the political leverage bestowed on those who would possess them.

However, there is an Achilles heel in our nonproliferation policy: the double standard that U.S. administrations since the 1960s have applied with respect to Israel's weapons of mass destruction. Israel's suspected arsenal includes chemical, biological and about 100 to 200 nuclear warheads, and the capacity to deliver them.

Initially, the United States opposed Israel's nuclear weapons program. President Kennedy dispatched inspectors to the Dimona generating plant in Israel's south, and he cautioned Israel against developing atomic weapons. Anticipating the 1962 visit of American inspectors, Israel reportedly constructed a fake wall at Dimona to conceal its weapons production.

Since then, no U.S. administration has effectively pressured Israel to either halt its program or to submit to inspections under the International Atomic Energy Agency. Nor has Israel been required to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The apparent rationale: Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of an ally are simply not an urgent concern.

Yet this rationale neglects a fundamental law of arms proliferation. Nations seek WMD when their rivals already possess them. Israel's nuclear capability has clearly fueled WMD ambitions within the Middle East. Saddam Hussein, for example, in an April 1990 speech to his military, threatened to retaliate against any Israeli nuclear attack with chemical weapons ? the "poor man's atomic bomb."

WASHINGTON'S inconsistency on the nuclear issue in the Middle East has been terribly corrosive of American legitimacy throughout the world, and a reversal of our policy would be widely noted regionally.

Nor is our international legitimacy all that is at stake. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, a panicky Israel, facing early battlefield losses, threatened a nuclear strike. This evoked a massive arms shipment from the United States, eventually permitting Israel to turn the tide of the war ? demonstrating the kinds of pressures that nuclear powers can apply, even on allies. Although many view Israel's victory with favor, it surely enabled subsequent decades of Israeli intransigence over the fate of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and has contributed to the impasse afflicting the region.

The study's authors include retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom and Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy ? in short, no enemies of Israel. Their suggestion is comparatively mild: Israel should take small, reversible steps toward nuclear disarmament to encourage Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Nonetheless, Israeli leaders reportedly have already demurred.

One can anticipate the bipartisan stampede of U.S. lawmakers to denounce the recommendation should it win official U.S. backing. That would be a shame. Sooner or later, common sense must prevail in our Middle East policy. Otherwise, we will continue to run our global stature into the ground.

GEORGE BISHARAT is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East.

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times

Facts Be Damned!

"It?s not the American people that anyone hates; it?s the American policy."

The Emperor Has Spoken

It?s a measure of the imperial nature of the modern American presidency that George W. Bush misstates the truth even as he defends himself against the charge that he misstates the truth.

It takes extraordinary disrespect for the American people to look them in the eyes and say that Congress had seen the same intelligence about Saddam Hussein?s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction as he did, and that a Senate committee had cleared his administration of twisting the WMD intelligence to serve its Iraq war agenda.

Neither of these claims is true, as many have pointed out. No congressional committee has examined the charge that the administration suppressed the substantial doubts within intelligence circles about the information furnished by Iraqi defectors of dubious credibility. Moreover, those evidenced-based doubts were not shared with the House and Senate intelligence committees in the run-up to the war. The Los Angeles Time recently reported that German intelligence personnel had told U.S. officials that administration claims about mobile biological-weapons laboratories were not credible, having come from an unreliable defector. Yet then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made those labs a big part of his major speech to the UN Security Council. And those allegations played no small role in scaring Americans into backing President Bush?s drive to war.

The Bush administration has never shown much confidence in the unvarnished truth. The latest example is the revelation that the U.S. military has paid Iraqi newspapers to publish favorable Pentagon-written ?news? ? better, propaganda ? pieces.

Thus President Bush?s latest PR campaign has to be judged in its proper context. His poll numbers are in the toilet, and congressional elections are less than a year away. His speeches about staying the course and the light at the end of the tunnel are Nixonesque. When will we hear him speak of ?Iraqization??

The president gives the impression that if he uses the word ?victory? enough times, we will believe him.

To revive his poll numbers he has hired a political scientist, Peter Feaver, to craft a message and campaign. As reported in the New York Times, Feaver came to Bush?s attention by arguing that Americans would accept high military casualties if they could be persuaded they were for a good cause. Feaver is able to measure what he calls ?casualty sensitivity.? He and his Duke University coauthors have written, ?Mounting casualties did not produce a reflexive collapse in public support. The Iraq case suggests that under the right conditions, the public will continue to support military operations even when they come with a relatively high human cost.?

And what would those ?right conditions? be? Apparently, they include filling the air with a lot of talk about victory, alleged Iraqi assumption of security responsibilities, and the usual war-on-terror buncombe. This last was in ample supply in Bush?s recent speech at the U.S. Naval Academy. In that speech, he called Iraq the ?central front in the war on terror,? although he acknowledged that non-Iraqis make up but a small part of resistance to the U.S. presence there.

Facts be damned; the president is not giving up on convincing the American people, contrary to the evidence, that Iraq had something to do with 9/11. He insists on ignoring the self-fulfilling character of his war: it has made Iraq a hotbed of anti-American violence because it has made the U.S. forces an army of occupation. None of this confirms Bush?s position that ?they? hate ?us? because of our way of life. ?They? hated ?us? because of a long history of U.S. intervention in the Middle East, and Bush has only given ?them? more reason to hate ?us? now.

But in fact, it?s not the American people that anyone hates; it?s the American policy. Readers familiar with Orwell?s Nineteen Eighty-Four will have no trouble recognizing what?s going on here.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation, author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine.

Bill Seeks to Hide Pentagon Misconduct From the Public Eye

Media groups are opposing federal legislation Tuesday that would allow the Defense Department to withhold from public disclosure unclassified information on prisoner abuses and employee misconduct.

The 2006 Defense Authorization Act (S. 1042) contains a provision that would give the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) a blanket exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for unclassified or declassified operational files. The defense bill is pending in a Senate/House conference.

The same FOIA exemption is also included in the Senate's 2006 Intelligence Authorization Act (S. 1803).

Files in this category recently released under FOIA include photos detailing abuses of detainees in Iraq and reports highlighting illegal detainment of non-combatants, criminal misconduct by DIA employees and unfair treatment of DIA officers who reported mistreatment.

The Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of the nation's leading media groups, has joined other advocacy groups in asking that the exemption be removed from both bills.

The DIA sought a similar provision in 2000, but Congress rejected it. This time around, no public hearings or debate have been held on the matter.

While the CIA enjoys a broad FOIA exemption for its operational files due to the clandestine nature of its methods, the DIA collects much of its information through open sources and routinely declassifies and releases documents. Declassified material has proven extremely valuable to informed debate on government policy.

Any documents the DIA has legitimately classified to protect national security would already be covered by the standard FOIA exemptions. Therefore, the FOIA exemption being proposed in the authorization bill would pertain only to unclassified or declassified material. Because federal law prevents government agencies from classifying material to conceal illegal or embarrassing activity, this exemption could shield such activity against public or congressional scrutiny.

Contact: Matt Landin
(202) 367-1625

WASHINGTON (Dec. 13, 2005)