Media, politics and culture.
US President Barack Obama speaks to delegates at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
It was startling, though not exactly surprising. Web detectives spotted it fairly easily. I saw it first from M.J. Rosenberg, but perhaps someone else had earlier. The Daily Beast and others referred to the grafs before they were cut. The Boston Globe published it earlier, in picking up The New York Times story, for example, and they still have it online.
This was cut from the Times’s top story of the day, on their site and in print:
Administration officials said the influential pro-Israel lobby group Aipac was already at work pressing for military action against the government of Mr. Assad, fearing that if Syria escapes American retribution for its use of chemical weapons, Iran might be emboldened in the future to attack Israel. In the House, the majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, has long worked to challenge Democrats’ traditional base among Jews.
One administration official, who, like others, declined to be identified discussing White House strategy, called Aipac “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” and said its allies in Congress had to be saying, “If the White House is not capable of enforcing this red line” against the catastrophic use of chemical weapons, “we’re in trouble.”
Updates; All of the many changes in the story tracked here. Goldberg talks to Politico about it. As he notes, very “strange”—original article was accurate and no space issues on the Web.…Some dialogue with the Times’s Robert Mackey on Twitter, in which he claims “transparency.” And now: See NYT explanation for cut here (“gorilla” quote had appeared the day before).
Obviously the White House and/or AIPAC did not want to be caught saying that the reason we are attacking Syria is to show AIPAC, the “800 pound gorilla,” that we are serious about the war the lobby really craves: Iran.
But there it is. Or was.
AIPAC censorship even applies to the Times. Only in America (not Israel, where AIPAC’s power does not extend to Haaretz).
Jeffrey Goldberg in tweet to me just now: “I noted, on Twitter, the AIPAC cut early this morning. Trying to get an answer about why it was cut.”
Brent Sasley at The Daily Beast had commented when he read original story;
One might, then, expect it to take a public position on the biggest issue of the day, U.S. strikes against the regime’s military assets. And after President Obama announced he was going to Congress for authorization for the attack, observers began wondering—with some claiming more confidently—that AIPAC would become much more active. Apparently White House officials even fear what AIPAC will do. If Obama is seen as not enforcing his red line over Syria, how, one hinted, would this “800-pound gorilla in the room” view the Administration’s Iran policy.
Bob Dreyfuss urges Congress to block war on Syria.
On September 2, 1945, Australian war reporter Wilfred Burchett left Tokyo by train, intent on reaching distant Hiroshima before any of his journalistic colleagues, who were banned from taking such a trip by the American occupation chief, General Douglas MacArthur.
Burchett, who had written dispatches glorifying the firebombing of Japanese cities, was just looking for a scoop. The following morning he encountered what he would describe as a “death-stricken alien planet.” He noticed a dank, sulfurous smell as he was taken directly to one of the few hospitals left standing. Its director felt certain that radiation sickness, far from being merely “propaganda” or a “hoax” as the United States was claiming, was very real. One in five patients was developing purple skin bruises, white cell counts had plunged for many, some were also losing their hair or simply expiring without any known injuries.
The reporter pulled out his typewriter and, sitting on a chunk of rubble near the hypocenter of the blast, composed his historic article, detailing the new disease, and commenting, “I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world.”
This part of the story is, by now, pretty well known. What happened next is not: the real beginning of the decades of suppression I detail in my new book and ebook, Atomic Cover-Up.
As Burchett was finishing his story, a group of journalists arrived on an Air Force plane, with a censor in tow. Included were the celebrated Bill Lawrence of The New York Times and Homer Bigart of the New York Herald-Tribune. Burchett told them to forget about the rubble, “the story is in the hospitals.”
They were not happy to find Burchett already there and with a finished article. He asked them to carry the story back to Tokyo and transmit it to his paper. They refused. Burchett managed to transmit his story to a colleague in Tokyo, who sneaked it past the censors, and it ran on September 5 on the front page of the London Daily Express, under the headline the atomic plague.
Articles written by the American reporters who had landed in Hiroshima gave no evidence that they had visited the hospitals. Yet Lawrence, years later in his memoirs, revealed, “We talked with dying Japanese in the hospitals.” Were those stories censored by MacArthur’s people? Lawrence also disclosed that MacArthur was “hopping mad” about the press junket and cut off supplies of gasoline to planes that might make another journo trip possible. Then he ordered all American reporters out of Tokyo to a closely watched enclave in Yokohama.
Meanwhile, the first American reporter to reach Nagasaki, George Weller, had found a similar “plague” in that city, but made the mistake of filing his stories directly through MacArthur’s office. All of the pieces would be spiked, only appearing for the first time in 2005.
But the story doesn’t end there. Back in Tokyo, General Thomas Farrell, who was directing the post-bomb official studies, held a press conference and categorically denied reports of (a) 70,000 to 100,000 killed in the atomic cities and (b) any kind of lingering radiation sickness. Suddenly Wilfred Burchett showed up, ill and unwashed, and told Farrell he was sadly misinformed. Farrell replied that Burchett had “fallen victim to Japanese propaganda.”
When the briefing broke up, Burchett was taken to a hospital, where it was discovered that his white blood cell count was below normal. Then, on leaving the hospital a few days later, he discovered that his camera containing film shot in Hiroshima was missing—and that MacArthur had ordered him expelled from Japan.
For much more on censorship and suppression of words and images—and key film footage shot by our own military—in the decades that followed, see my book Atomic Cover-Up. And my e-book on how the first Hollywood epic, from MGM, on the bomb was censored—including by President Truman himself.
A man inspects a site hit by what activists said were missiles fired by Syrian Air Force fighter jets. (Reuters/Nour Fourat)
Margaret Sullivan, public editor, again proved her worth today, raising questions (her own and from readers) about the New York Times coverage of the run-up to the likely coming attack on Syria.
I’ve done this for awhile (months) myself on blogs and Twitter and as recently as today, noting Michael Gordon’s return to the top of the home page—remember, he was Judy Miller’s co-author on some of her worst Iraq pieces. Now Sullivan rightly suggests that the paper’s editorial page has been pretty cautious on the claims and wisdom of launching an attack, but its news pages too often seem to be seeing things through the eyes of the insiders and the administration.
She comments, “While The Times has offered deep and rich coverage from both Washington and the Syrian region, the tone cannot be described as consistently skeptical.” (Note: My book on how the Times and others failed on Iraq, So Wrong for So Long. My other WMD-related book: Atomic Cover-up.)
Quote of the day in her piece from the Times’s number-two editor, Dean Baquet, on the paper blowing Iraq WMD coverage and helping to get us into ten-year war: “It was a long, long, time ago.”
And this: Baquet, asked about advising reporters about what happened a decade ago: “I’ve never said, ‘Let’s remember what happened with Iraq.’"
Interestingly, the Associated Press has had a couple of tough pieces in recent days on the Syria claims and the down side of an attack—and it seems that editors there did remind staff about what went on with the Iraq fiasco in 2002-2003.
UPDATE: In what we'll assume is pure coincidence, the Times—later than most other top outlets—finally not only published a piece late last night on experts warning about risks of attack, but placed it at the top of its Web site.
And Times' editorial for Saturday:
As President Obama moves toward unilateral military action in response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed more than 1,400 people, he is doing so without legal justification and without the backing of two key institutions, Congress and the United Nations Security Council. Both have abdicated their roles in dealing with this crisis....
Mr. Obama’s ability to muster broad backing for immediate action was harmed by the British vote, leaving only France promising cooperation. Even in the best of circumstances, military action could go wrong in so many ways; the lack of strong domestic and international support will make it even more difficult.
The case against military intervention in Syria.
Smoke rises after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the village of Dourit, in Latakia countryside, August 17, 2013. (Reuters/Khattab Abdulaa)
After days of following the White House line, skeptical reporting and punditry has finally arrived in the past twenty-four hours related to the allegedly clear evidence of a recent chemical attack in Syria and the US determination to quickly strike (perhaps today) the Assad forces.
Surprisingly tough AP report today, based on intel sources, that evidence concerning the chemical attack is far from a “slam dunk”—some insiders even mocking George Tenet’s famous phrase about WMD in Iraq—with huge gaps in evidence and even: “The complicated intelligence picture raises questions about the White House’s full-steam-ahead approach to the August 21 attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb, with worries that the attack could be tied to al-Qaida-backed rebels later.”
And: “The uncertainty calls into question the statements by Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden.” You may recall non-critical media coverage of Secretary of State John Kerry’s press statement on Monday, where he said there was no doubt at all that Assad had ordered the use of chemical weapons.
The New York Times, after boosting the evidence and an attack for days, now with a kind of shocker—after much fulminating and bloviating, it now appears the big White House intel report slamming Assad today may be very limited, and suddenly the White House is trying to lower expectations. The paper notes fears of Colin Powell’s UN presentation on Iraq as a bad role model. (See my report on Powell’s very bad day in 2003 and how our media rolled over for it.) As I tweeted last night, the Brits, after protests in Parlament, have put off backing any quick strikes, which caused hawks in DC and in our media to start reaching for the Viagra this morning.
And in an editorial today, the Times says more questions need to be answered before any Obama missile attack. And the Washington Post demands that Congress be consulted (is it just me, or is their editorial page less hawkish since the Bezos purchase?).
Another key news report has the United Nations finishing its probe in Syria today and, surprise (to some), promises some sort of report Saturday. Turns out, as I warned, the pundits and official and unofficial US sources were wrong (and probably knew it) this week—evidence of an attack was not that degraded and it is not taking weeks for some kind of testing and assessment.
Peter Bergen, terror expert at CNN, with a look at the large Al Qaeda force among Syrian rebels. McClatchy with look at how military experts are now “cautious” about any US attack—and other thorny issues and risks.
As for some tough critiques, as usual, the great Amy Davidson at The New Yorker nails it. John Cassidy, another New Yorker “old reliable,” adds his warnings there. James Fallows joins in here. Robin Wright, the former great Washington Post reporter, with risks-and-consequences LA Times op-ed. Davidson:
As of Wednesday afternoon, eighty-eight members of Congress had signed a letter put together by Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican with a lot of service members in his district, asking Obama to reconvene them and get authorization for any attack. Most of those who signed on were Republicans, but not all of them. Obama could do so if he wanted to. John Boehner could also bring back the House, and Harry Reid the Senate; it would be a mistake not to.
What is the disadvantage of going to Congress? That they are loud and annoying and someone will try to introduce a resolution tying action in Syria to Obamacare? If the Administration can’t stand up to Ted Cruz, it can hardly hope to frighten Bashar al-Assad. And if going to Congress now feels time-consuming, how does it compare to the hours, days, weeks, and sanity expended on the Benghazi hearings?
See my blog Pressing Issues for frequent updates on the Syria crisis (and much more).
The case against military intervention in Syria.
Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan near Idlib, Syria. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
As hours pass and rhetoric by Obama administration officials, named and unnamed, grows more bellicose against Assad and Syria, liberal hawks in the media, and newspaper editorial pages, have largely fallen in line, calling for a swift US missile attack or more. This was the same pattern we saw in regard to Iraq in 2003, when a Republican was in the White House.
Of course, the two situations are different, and The New York Times has a lengthy and chilling new report tonight trying to recreate the night of the attack. But there is this much that’s the same: liberals are calling for fast action even though proof of a chemical attack, and who did it, remains less than definitive—and with United Nations inspectors on the scene but their work discounted by America. Yet the rush to judgment—and bomb—escalates.
Some liberals in the media have resisted, however. Then there's the issue of the country that still defends killing 100,000 women and children with a new radiation bomb in 1945 lecturing others on what's a "moral obscenity." And two days ago Foreign Policy revealed new evidence of Reagan-era America's "complicity" in Saddam's massive chemical attacks in the war with Iran.
I’ll begin collecting a range of commentary, updates added on Tuesday. Plus consider the irony of this tweet by Laura Rozen on Tuesday: "Strikes won't start til Thursday, am guessing. Among other reasons, because Obama speaking on 50th anniv. of MLK's I have a dream Wed."
• Eugene Robinson joins liberal hawks tonight in calling for strike on Assad at The Washington Post. Admits history argues against it but we have to do it. “Must be punished.” George Packer at The New Yorker at least argues with himself.
• Dexter Filkins joins liberal hawks in calling for attack in new piece at The New Yorker. After recounting a moving talk with journalist/witness to last week’s bombing, he admits our attack now could make things worse (and no rebel leader to trust)—but have got to try something. David Frum at Twitter, on the other hand, outlined several good reasons to resist this impulse.
• The New York Times, in an editorial posted late Monday, asked for a measured response after declaring: “This time the use of chemicals was more brazen and the casualties were much greater, suggesting that Mr. Assad did not take Mr. Obama seriously. Presidents should not make a habit of drawing red lines in public, but if they do, they had best follow through. Many countries (including Iran, which Mr. Obama has often said won’t be permitted to have a nuclear weapon) will be watching.”
• The Times also collected the mixed views of several experts in a Room for Debate online, including this warning from Stephen Walt: “Even if proven, the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government does not tip the balance in favor of U.S. military intervention. To think otherwise places undue weight on the weapons Assad’s forces may have used and ignores the many reasons that US intervention is still unwise.”
• The great Andrew Bacevich raises three reasons to pause. For one: we now aim to hit Syria—but we did little after the Egyptians, who we fund, killed perhaps as many civilians two weeks ago in non-chemical attacks. Juan Cole warns of civilian casualties in a U.S. attack based on where Syrian weaponry located. Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic makes the case against intervention: "Intervention in Syria could have catastrophic consequences for America and for the region. Non-intervention would pose no threat to us, and wouldn't preclude us from alleviating suffering elsewhere on a huge scale (and with no risk of accidentally killing innocent civilians in the process). Hawks are most interested in humanitarian causes that can be carried out by force. There is no reason the rest of us should share their world view, given how many times it has resulted in needless slaughter on a massive scale."
• The Post editorial: “Mr. Obama should deliver on his vow not to tolerate such crimes—by ordering direct U.S. retaliation against the Syrian military forces responsible and by adopting a plan to protect civilians in southern Syria with a no-fly zone.” Chicago Tribune: “If the Syrian government launched this chemical attack, will it be held accountable, not just by the U.S. but by countries in the Arab world and elsewhere? Will France, Turkey and other countries outraged by the attack impose a no-fly zone in Syria, along the lines of the NATO coalition that helped topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011? Or will world leaders shrug, await Assad’s next outrage, and debate the meaning of ‘red line’?”
* Will be hard to top Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal: "Should President Obama decide to order a military strike against Syria, his main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad. Also, Bashar's brother and principal henchman, Maher. Also, everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power. Also, all of the political symbols of the Assad family's power, including all of their official or unofficial residences."
Bob Dreyfuss on Russia's stake in the Syrian war.
Kurt Vonnegut. (AP Images)
I first encountered Kurt Vonnegut in 1970, about five years after I consumed Cat’s Cradle in one bite, when I took part in a “rap session” with him in New York just before the opening of his play, Happy Birthday, Wanda June. Four years later, for the legendary Crawdaddy, where I was senior editor, I interviewed him and turned it into a unique profile that he called the best one about him up to that point. But that was only the beginning.
I see that The Nation has just published a book collecting a dozen pieces that he wrote for the magazine. Coincidentally, my own e-book, Vonnegut and Me, was also published last week. It details (often in a very witty way) my “conversations and close encounters of a weird kind” with the famed novelist, starting in 1970 and then over the years.
Here’s the first excerpt, below. Note: The entire copy of my quite lengthy 1974 profile/interview is included in the book. You can read more of it here. And my new quote-of-the-day feature from Vonnegut here.
* * *
Following up on my exclusive Joseph Heller interview, I attempted to wrangle an invitation from Kurt Vonnegut Jr. to come to his Upper East Side apartment (where he was now living with famed photographer Jill Krementz) for a rare sit-down interview. His recent book Breakfast of Champions had not exactly thrilled the critics—it was no Slaughterhouse-Five—but it was selling well. In response to my letter, Vonnegut wrote, “I’ll be teaching at CCNY next fall, along with your friend and mine, Joe Heller. Let’s see what sort of wisdom, if any, is shaped by that teaching experience. You might find me wise about life instead of shrewd about publishing.”
I’d profiled him over three years earlier after a group interview. Now, in February 1974, it was fun to sit across from him in his East Side living room for an hour or two, but he kept getting interrupted by students—he was teaching that semester—or his quite alarming cigarette cough. Also, his phone kept ringing and I learned that, amazingly, he still had a listed phone number. (His favorite calls, he revealed, came from drunks halfway across the country late at night.) His daughter had married Geraldo Rivera, which didn’t seem to thrill him in the least.
The recent film adaptation of his play Happy Birthday, Wanda June? “One of the most embarrassing movies ever made.” And so on.
When I transcribed the interview and realized it was so-so, I took the risky step of writing a lengthy account of my visit under the byline “Kilgore Trout.” Vonnegut had just set his most famous recurring character free in Breakfast of Champions, and so I (rather cleverly, I thought) adopted him myself as a pen name. I also assembled some of Vonnegut’s other characters, such as Bokonon, Howard W. Campbell, and Eliot Rosewater, for a fanciful reunion at his townhouse, with bear hugs and wacky anecdotes all-around.
Then, borrowing a Vonnegut trick, I reported the end of the world at the finish. So it goes.
While I resurrected and re-cast some of Vonnegut’s best lines from his novels, most of his quotes were from our interview, so it maintained an air of reality. Then I got Krementz to lend us some photos—including one of Vonnegut in old man make-up, a portrait of Trout, or so I claimed—and famed illustrator Edward Sorel contributed the cover. One excerpt, in the voice of Trout:
I had spent the previous night in a movie theater on 42nd Street. It was much cheaper than a night in a hotel. I had never done it before, but I knew sleeping in movie houses was the sort of thing really dirty old men did. I was in town to take part in a symposium entitled “The Future of the American Novel in the Age of McLuhan.” As I walked east on 38th Street I decided that what I wished to say at that symposium was this: “I don’t know who McLuhan is, but I know what it’s like to spend the night with a lot of other dirty old men in a movie theater in New York City.”
As for a second character:
Campbell, who had served too enthusiastically the Nazi cause during World War II as an American agent and had hanged himself in an Israeli jail 20 years later (before the Jews could) only to have Vonnegut cut the rope with his Emancipation Proclamation, explained quickly that he had revived the Iron Guard of the White Sons of the American Constitution. Apparently he had taken yet another turn for the worse.
And then, based on the actual interview:
I asked Vonnegut if he had been able to figure out yet why he’s the best-selling author on campus. “Well, I’m screamingly funny,” he obliged. “I really am in the books. And I talk about stuff Billy Graham won’t talk about, for instance, you know, is it wrong to kill?”
“I see nothing wrong with being sophomoric. I mean, my books deal with subjects that interest sophomores. I fault my fraternity brothers from Cornell. Not only do they not read anymore but they’re not interested in the Big Questions, and I don’t regard that as mature—I regard it as a long step toward the grave.”
“When you get to be our age,” he added, “you all of a sudden realize that you are being ruled by people you went to high school with. You all of a sudden catch on that life is nothing but high school—class officers, cheerleaders, and all.”
“As I get older, I get more didactic. I say what I really think. If I have an idea I don’t embed it in a novel, I simply write it in an essay as clearly as I can….The big trouble with print, of course, is that it is an elitist art form. Most people can’t read very well.”
Somehow the whole package worked and it was later republished in the first collection of pieces about him. He had assured me that “Pall Malls will kill me” but he would continue to write novels and, increasingly, political essays until his death in 2007, from a fall. Much more, of course, in my book.
A “WikiLeaks” graphic is displayed on a laptop. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
The debate in the media, and in political circles over Edward Snowden—Right or Wrong—often doubles back on references to Pfc. Manning, who was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison on Wednesday. Too often (that is, most of the time), the value and import of the Manning/WikiLeaks disclosures are ignored or dismissed, just as Snowden’s NSA scoops are often derided as “nothing new.”
So for those who either suffer from memory loss or ignorance on this particular score, here is a partial accounting of some of the important revelations in the Manning leak, drawn from my book—with Kevin Gosztola—on the Manning case, Truth and Consequences (the e-book just now updated to include the trial, the verdict, this week’s sentencing and reactions).
The revelations below were compiled for the book in March 2011—many others followed, including the important Gitmo files (see my piece about them) in April 2011. Here is a New York Times take on just part of those Gitmo files: "What began as a jury-rigged experiment after the 2001 terrorist attacks now seems like an enduring American institution, and the leaked files show why, by laying bare the patchwork and contradictory evidence that in many cases would never have stood up in criminal court or a military tribunal." So even this accounting below is far from complete.
And let’s not forget what started it all: the “Collateral Murder” video.
First, just a very partial list from “Cablegate” (keep in mind, this does not include many other bombshells that caused a stir in smaller nations abroad):
• Yemeni president lied to his own people, claiming his military carried out air strikes on militants actually done by the US. All part of giving US full rein in country against terrorists.
• Details on Vatican hiding big sex abuse cases in Ireland.
• US tried to get Spain to curb its probes of Gitmo torture and rendition.
• Egyptian torturers trained by FBI—although allegedly to teach the human rights issues.
• State Dept. memo: US-backed 2009 coup in Honduras was “illegal and unconstitutional.”
• Cables on Tunisia appear to help spark revolt in that country. The country’s ruling elite described as “The Family,” with Mafia-like skimming throughout the economy. The country’s first lady may have made massive profits off a private school.
• US knew all about massive corruption in Tunisia back in 2006 but went on supporting the government anyway, making it the pillar of its North Africa policy.
• Cables showed the UK promised in 2009 to protect US interests in the official Chilcot inquiry on the start of the Iraq war.
* Oil giant Shell claims to have “inserted staff” and fully infiltrated Nigeria's government.
• US pressured the European Union to accept GM—genetic modification, that is.
• Washington was misled by our own diplomats on Russia-Georgia showdown.
• Extremely important historical document finally released in full: Ambassador April Glaspie’s cable from Iraq in 1990 on meeting with Saddam Hussein before Kuwait invasion.
• The UK sidestepped a ban on housing cluster bombs. Officials concealed from Parliament how the US is allowed to bring weapons on to British soil in defiance of treaty.
• The New York Times: “From hundreds of diplomatic cables, Afghanistan emerges as a looking-glass land where bribery, extortion and embezzlement are the norm and the honest man is a distinct outlier.”
• Afghan vice president left country with $52 million “in cash.”
• Shocking levels of US spying at the United Nations (beyond what was commonly assumed) and intense use of diplomats abroad in intelligence-gathering roles.
• Potential environmental disaster kept secret by the US when a large consignment of highly enriched uranium in Libya came close to cracking open and leaking radioactive material into the atmosphere.
• US used threats, spying, and more to try to get its way at last year’s crucial climate conference in Copenhagen.
* American and British diplomats fear Pakistan's nuclear weapons program — with poor security — could lead to fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists or a devastating nuclear exchange with India.
• Hundreds of cables detail US use of diplomats as “sales” agents, more than previously thought, centering on jet rivalry of Boeing vs. Airbus. Hints of corruption and bribes.
• Millions in US military aid for fighting Pakistani insurgents went to other gov’t uses (or stolen) instead.
• Israel wanted to bring Gaza to the ”brink of collapse.”
• The US secret services used Turkey as a base to transport terrorism suspects as part of its extraordinary rendition program.
• As protests spread in Egypt, cables revealed that strong man Suleiman was at center of government’s torture programs, causing severe backlash for Mubarak after he named Suleiman vice president during the revolt. Other cables revealed or confirmed widespread Mubarak regime corruption, police abuses and torture, and claims of massive Mubarak famiiy fortune, significantly influencing media coverage and US response.
Now, an excerpt from our book on just small aspect of the Iraq war cables. As I noted, this doesn’t even include the release of the “Collateral Murder” video earlier.
Al Jazeera suggested that the real bombshell was the US allowing Iraqis to torture detainees. Documents revealed that US soldiers sent 1,300 reports to headquarters with graphic accounts, including a few about detainees beaten to death. Some US generals wanted our troops to intervene, but Pentagon chiefs disagreed, saying these assaults should only be reported, not stopped. At a time the US was declaring that no torture was going on, there were forty-one reports of such abuse still happening “and yet the US chose to turn its back.”
The New York Times report on the torture angle included this: “The six years of reports include references to the deaths of at least six prisoners in Iraqi custody, most of them in recent years. Beatings, burnings and lashings surfaced in hundreds of reports, giving the impression that such treatment was not an exception. In one case, Americans suspected Iraqi Army officers of cutting off a detainee’s fingers and burning him with acid. Two other cases produced accounts of the executions of bound detainees.
And while some abuse cases were investigated by the Americans, most noted in the archive seemed to have been ignored, with the equivalent of an institutional shrug: soldiers told their officers and asked the Iraqis to investigate…. That policy was made official in a report dated May 16, 2005, saying that ‘if US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted until directed by HHQ.’ In many cases, the order appeared to allow American soldiers to turn a blind eye to abuse of Iraqis on Iraqis.
Amnesty International quickly called on the US to investigate how much our commanders knew about Iraqi torture.
A top story at The Guardian, meanwhile, opened: “Leaked Pentagon files obtained by The Guardian contain details of more than 100,000 people killed in Iraq following the US-led invasion, including more than 15,000 deaths that were previously unrecorded.
“British ministers have repeatedly refused to concede the existence of any official statistics on Iraqi deaths. US General Tommy Franks claimed ‘We don’t do body counts.’ The mass of leaked documents provides the first detailed tally by the US military of Iraqi fatalities. Troops on the ground filed secret field reports over six years of the occupation, purporting to tote up every casualty, military and civilian.
“Iraq Body Count, a London-based group that monitors civilian casualties, told the Guardian: ‘These logs contain a huge amount of entirely new information regarding casualties. Our analysis so far indicates that they will add 15,000 or more previously unrecorded deaths to the current IBC total. This data should never have been withheld from the public.’ ” The logs recorded a total of 109,032 violent deaths between 2004 and 2009.
Citing a new document, the Times reported: “According to one particularly painful entry from 2006, an Iraqi wearing a tracksuit was killed by an American sniper who later discovered that the victim was the platoon’s interpreter…. The documents…reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians—at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.”
And now, re the Afghanistan war logs, another book excerpt:
The Times highlighted it as “The War Logs” with the subhed, “A six-year archive of classified military documents offers an unvarnished and grim picture of the Afghan war.” Explicitly, or by extension, the release also raised questions about the media coverage of the war to date.
The Guardian carried a tough editorial on its website, calling the picture “disturbing” and raising doubts about ever winning this war, adding: “These war logs—written in the heat of engagement—show a conflict that is brutally messy, confused and immediate. It is in some contrast with the tidied-up and sanitized ‘public’ war, as glimpsed through official communiques as well as the necessarily limited snapshots of embedded reporting.”
Elsewhere, the paper traced the CIA and paramilitary roles in the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan, many cases hidden until now. In one incident, a US patrol machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing fifteen. David Leigh wrote, “They range from the shootings of individual innocents to the often massive loss of life from air strikes, which eventually led President Hamid Karzai to protest publicly that the US was treating Afghan lives as ‘cheap’.”
The paper said the logs also detailed “how the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.” Previously unknown friendly fire incidents also surfaced.
The White House, which knew what was coming, quickly slammed the release of classified reports— most labeled “secret”—and pointed out the documents ended in 2009, just before the president set a new policy in the war; and claimed that the whole episode was suspect because WikiLeaks was against the war. Still, it was hard to dismiss official internal memos such as: “The general view of Afghans is that current gov’t is worse than the Taliban.
Among the revelations that gained prime real estate from The New York Times: “The documents…suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.” The Guardian, however, found no “smoking gun” on this matter. The Times also reported that the US had given Afghans credit for missions carried out by our own Special Ops teams.
Obviously much more in our book.
Chase Madar on how politicians in both parties have found, in Chelsea Manning, a scapegoat for the Iraq War.
Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning, in handcuffs, is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland, February 23, 2012. (Reuters/Jose Luis Magana)
Chelsea Manning, after a military judge sentenced her to thirty-five years in prison yesterday, sent a statement to the world outlining why she leaked material and thanking her supporters for backing her for so long. This morning Manning released another statement via her attorney David Coombs on the Today show that was quite different—although not exactly a shock for those who have closely followed her words during her confinement and trial.
Manning announced: “I am Chelsea Manning. I am female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition….
“I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.” Manning again thanked her supporters. She signed the note, “Chelsea E. Manning.”
UPDATE: The Army just announced it would not provide hormone therapy.
Her attorney said he expects Manning to be paroled in seven years but still hopes for a pardon from President Obama before then.
My full coverage of reaction to the sentencing yesterday. Here’s the full Manning statement released earlier via her attorney on Wednesday:
The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of the concern for my country and the wrold that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We have been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on a traditional battlefield. Due to this fact, we’ve had to alter our methods of combatting the risk posed to us and our way of life.
I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend our country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time that I realized that our efforts to meet the risk posed to us by the enemy, we had forgotten our humanity
We consciously elected to devalue life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians.
Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.
In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.
Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism any logically-based dissension, it is usually an American soldier that is given the order to carry out some ill-conceived mission.
Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy—the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism and the Japanese-American internment camps—to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.
As the late Howard Zinn once said, there is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.
I understand that my actions violated the law. I regret that my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and my sense of duty to others.
If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my request knowing that some time you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.
US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning. (Reuters/Gary Cameron)
Pfc. Bradley Manning sentenced by judge, Denise Lind, to thirty-five years in prison this morning. Here’s my live-blogging.
1:45 At press conference going on now, Manning attorney David Coombs says he will formally ask President Obama to pardon the soldier “or at the very least commute his sentence to time served.” Also reads statement from Manning: “We consciously elected to devalue human life in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Also Manning quotes Howard Zinn: “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” Amnesty Int’l also just made that “time served” request.
Coombs says he in Manning both “in tears” after sentencing but Manning cheered him up. Reveals that early gov’t plea deal called for sentence longer than thirty-five years—and Manning would have had to testify. Coombs’ advice to Edward Snowden: “Current environment isn’t friendly to whistleblowers.”
12:30 pm Alex Gibney, director of the We Steal Secrets film, tweets: “Outrageous sentence of Bradley Manning. terrible day for US.… No prosecutions for torture sanctioned by US officials but Manning gets 35 years. Is that justice? BM is 21st century Eddie Slovik.” Gibney, in our interview months ago, raised the case of the executed World War II soldier repeatedly…
12:15 Great Twitter storm after David Frum tweeted “shocker” that you’d get punished if you released national security secrets. Many responded with such as “Shocker—murder civilians and not punished.” Or “Shocker—torture and no consequences.” Or: “Invade country with lies—no penalty.”
11:30 Response from ACLU: Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project—
“When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system. A legal system that doesn’t distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will not only produce unjust results, but will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability. This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate.”
11:15 My full accounting of Manning’s leaks and effects—and amazingly long list.
11:10 Response from the Center for Constitutional Rights:
We are outraged that a whistleblower and a patriot has been sentenced on a conviction under the Espionage Act. The government has stretched this archaic and discredited law to send an unmistakable warning to potential whistleblowers and journalists willing to publish their information. We can only hope that Manning’s courage will continue to inspire others who witness state crimes to speak up.
This show trial was a frontal assault on the First Amendment, from the way the prosecution twisted Manning’s actions to blur the distinction between whistleblowing and spying to the government’s tireless efforts to obstruct media coverage of the proceedings. It is a travesty of justice that Manning, who helped bring to light the criminality of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is being punished while the alleged perpetrators of the crimes he exposed are not even investigated. Every aspect of this case sets a dangerous precedent for future prosecutions of whistleblowers—who play an essential role in democratic government by telling us the truth about government wrongdoing—and we fear for the future of our country in the wake of this case.
We must channel our outrage and continue building political pressure for Manning’s freedom. President Obama should pardon Bradley Manning, and if he refuses, a presidential pardon must be an election issue in 2016.
11 Full report from the scene by Kevin Gosztola, who first helped me with Manning coverage at the beginning here at The Nation.
10:20 Manning gets thirty-five years. Forfeit of all pay & allowances. Dishonorably discharged. Minus 1294 days for time detained and treatment at Quantico. MSNBC military experts says eligible to get out in ten years. CNN guest says sentence can be reviewed in six months. Glenn Greenwald tweets: “Sick, sad, pathetic, and disgusting…. gee, I wonder why Snowden doesn’t trust US justice as a whistleblower.”
10:00 Slight delay. Nothing new. Alexa O’Brien tweets: “Manning was held longer than any accused awaiting court-martial history of US mil law. Judge ruled that Speedy Trial rights not violated.” Manning attorney to not speak to media until 1:30 pm.
9:30 Manning will get credit for time “served” (over 1,000 days) and for over 100 days of “torture” at Quantico.
9 am Gosztola: Media being sniffed by dogs one last time in court-martial before being escorted on base… Government has asked for sixty-year sentence. Defense asks that he get sentence that “allows him to have a life.” Alexa O’Brien: “All the networks are here. I am told MSNBC showed up for the first or second time yesterday.” Chris Hedges and Cornel West, who have attended on some other days, also have arrived.
Kevin Gosztola, co-author of our Manning book, Truth and Consequences, completes quite a saga—he’s been at nearly all of hearings and trial days and now sentencing segment for the past, what, eighteen months, with only two or three others. Of course, this will be one of the very rare days where a bunch of other media will show up. My post on plans to seek clemency and pardon, and protests tonight. My post on whether Manning will get longer sentence that Sgt. Robert Bales, who killed 16.
Greg Mitchell’s latest book, published last week, is Vonnegut and Me: Conversations and Close Encounters.
Glenn Greenwald. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
I have to agree with media maven Jay Rosen who on Twitter called the revelations in this column, starting in the ninth paragraph, the most significant journalism (or anti-journalism) news in a long time. It’s a piece posted last night at The Guardian by its editor Alan Rusbridger and now it’s gone viral and drawn cries of concern and outrage across the media map.
Rusbridger on the BBC this morning added this comment: “Once you start conflating terrorism and journalism, as a country you are in trouble.”
To cite just one other reaction, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, Kirsty Hughes, warned: ‘Using the threat of legal action to force a newspaper into destroying material is a direct attack on press freedom in the UK. It is unclear which laws would have been used to force the Guardian to hand over its material but it is clear that the Snowden and NSA story is strongly in the public interest. Coming on the back of the detention of David Miranda, it seems that the UK government is using, and quite likely misusing, laws to intimidate journalists and silence its critics.”
But the threat certainly crosses the ocean.
Rusbridger opens his opus by recounting a famous WikiLeaks episode that involved a thumb drive—as depicted in the upcoming feature movie about Assange—that he was involved in, and then moves on to the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda at Heathrow this past weekend. He then reveals what happened in his own dramatic dealings with the UK government in the past two months over the paper’s Snowden reporting, including the smashing of a laptop, and the perilous future of such reporting. Read it and weep. (Also, here’s David Miranda’s first interview since the Heathrow incident. And a round-up of Brit editorials vs. Miranda detention.) Here’s how Reuters is reporting it:
The editor of the Guardian, a major outlet for revelations based on leaks from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, says the British government threatened legal action against the newspaper unless it either destroyed the classified documents or handed them back to British authorities.
In an article posted on the British newspaper’s website on Monday, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said that a month ago, after the newspaper had published several stories based on Snowden’s material, a British official advised him: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.”
After further talks with the government, Rusbridger said, two “security experts” from Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the ultra-secretive U.S. National Security Agency, visited the Guardian’s London offices. In the building’s basement, Rusbridger wrote, government officials watched as computers which contained material provided by Snowden were physically pulverized….
The Guardian’s decision to publicize the government threat—and the newspaper’s assertion that it can continue reporting on the Snowden revelations from outside of Britain—appears to be the latest step in an escalating battle between the news media and governments over reporting of secret surveillance programs.
Rusbridger does point out, more than once, that the “pulverizing” action shows how little the authorities understand modern communications, as the material on the laptop exists at other locations and The Guardian will go on publishing material, just not from its London office.
I’ll post more reactions below as the day continues.
McClatchy uncovered more revelations about Obama’s “insider theat program”—but unlike The Guardian’s investigations, this news is going almost entirely unreported.