The Iraq Information Crackdown
If you believe in coincidences, then you will not be surprised by this one.
In the space of twenty-four hours what passes for the Iraqi government announced that news photographers, video and still, are forbidden to record images of the mayhem and murder after a bomb has gone off. No more of those pictures of the survivors, hands clapped to head, screaming in front of a smoking ruin, parts of human bodies, men racing to put the maimed into cars while sirens call the news of new horrors.
At almost the same time, the Pentagon had an announcement of its own to make. Henceforth our soldiers in Iraq will find MySpace, YouTube and eleven other websites blocked when they try to write home or post pictures and videos from military computers. This is the latest in an ongoing crackdown on our people blogging from Iraq. Never mind that much of what we know about this war comes not from commercial news outlets but from what servicemen and -women have sent back home through cyberspace.
The Pentagon says that the communications ban is needed because private messages were clogging Internet capacity and getting in the way of priority war communications. It did not add that some of what our people were sending back home were pictures of events and actions the Administration does not want shown. The President long ago refused to permit pictures of our own war dead returning home in flag-draped coffins, so he must have been going nuts over what active-duty soldiers have been posting on YouTube.
The Iraqis claim their ban has been put into effect to allow gathering of evidence and in deference to privacy considerations. Privacy considerations have become the standard excuse used by every large institution in the world to suppress information and dodge answering pertinent questions. As if there were such a thing as privacy considerations in a land where no act, regardless of how gruesome, is not put on the Internet to terrify and intimidate when it suits the perpetrators' intentions.
If you do not believe in coincidences, you will conclude that these actions are calculated to insure that henceforth all the American public is going to learn about the "surge" will be coming from official sources. If that's the case, does it mean that things are going even less well than many already fear?
The Pentagon may have taken these steps for legitimate reasons. Unthinking soldiers have been known to put information on the Internet of real tactical use to our enemy--but is "enemies" the right word, or shall we just say whoever the hell it is we may be fighting? In that conjunction let's do remember that the other side (or sides?) are as adept at using the Internet as we are.
I know of one case of a lieutenant who was punished for including in his blog descriptions of platoon-level combat routines developed in Iraq, the foreknowledge of which would make it easier for an ill-disposed person to inflict injury on us. Not everything the Pentagon says is BS.
Real security considerations do exist, but military personnel do have First Amendment rights--but they have no right to reveal what ought to be secret. The trouble is that when the government is run by a pack of liars, how are we to know when what they say is legit and what is trickery?
All governments lie, especially in wartime, and the public is none the wiser until combat is over when it does not matter anymore. In the Internet age, in the time of video-equipped cellphones, however, the lies often get exposed within hours of their utterance.
The government needs to invent new ways of smothering information. With the talent they have in the White House and the Pentagon, surely they must be able to come up with better ways of keeping us in the dark. They went to Harvard and Yale and they pray a lot, so they can do better than this set of coincidences.
The news-consuming public ought to sympathize with the government's desire to deceive. We're all on the same side, aren't we? If the surge is failing, then what else are they to do but get out the eyeliner and the lipstick and get to work on the pig? But they have to do a better job of applying the cosmetics, because most of us know that coincidences like this one rarely happen.