Saturday, July 15, 2006

NYT: Selling the witchhunt through sourcing

Edward Wong is left alone to cover Iraq in this morning's New York Times. He files a think piece (I disagree with many of his conclusions but appreciate the effort -- more attempts at perspective then you normally see in reporting from a daily newspaper). The Go-Go Boys are bored, are a-getting bored and the war-ons aren't leaking on their y-fronts. There's bigger fish to fry and so we're left with Wong's "Radical Shiite Cleric Hints at Militia Attacks to Protest Israel’s Actions."

Here's what we'll focus on from Wong's article:

Another armed group here, the Islamic Resistance Movement in Iraq, issued a statement on Friday supporting Lebanese resistance against Israel and calling for more attacks in Iraq to support “our jihad brothers in Palestine and Lebanon,” according to the SITE Institute, which tracks jihadist Internet messages.

SITE. Rita Katz. Can the paper do an article without mentioning her? Apparently not.

Should they be noting her? (In other times, phoney names in an interview would have gotten your ass kicked out of the source-crowd.) Here's Rita Katz explaining how she's suited for the job of 'terrorist' hunter:

When you grow up in a place like Iraq, you understand maybe a little bit about how Arabs think, and also what they are capable of.

Read that statement again. You didn't read it in the New York Times, which would probably judge it as the hate speech it is. It's from Rita Katz. Benjamin Wallace-Wells quotes her saying that in his article in The New Yorker. Katz is Jewish. With all that's going on the Middle East right now, especially now, should they be turning to a Jewish woman who says: "You understand maybe a little bit about how Arabs think, and also what they are capable of."

If we changed that to "African-American," if Rita Katz was "tracking" African-Americans and stated: "You understand maybe a little bit about African-Americans think, and also what they are capable of" -- would we be offended? I think we would be. And I think we should be now.

Some of Katz's most offensive remarks have been made to the Israeli right-wing press. But they're known outside, those remarks have circulated.

From Wallace-Wells' article:

Katz has many critics, who believe that she is giving terrorists a bigger platform than they would otherwise have, and that the certainty and obsession that make her a dedicated archivist also make her too eager to find plots where they don’t exist; she publicized a manual for using botulinum in terror attacks, for example, which experts later concluded was not linked to any serious threat. It’s possible that her immersion in the world of terrorism has removed whatever skepticism or doubts she may have had. "Much as Al Jazeera underplays terrorist threats, the SITE Institute at times overhypes them," Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A.’s bin Laden unit, said.

Robert F. Worth, of the Times, is noted in the article (as "Robert Worth" -- well, at least it wasn't "Bobby Worth") saying: "You're thrown into Baghdad, and there are a million different groups out there you've never heard of claiming responsibility for attacks [. . .] Rita really knows what she's talking about--who's responsible for attacks, what's a legitimate terrorist organization and what's not."

If you're not able to make sense of it, how can you evaluate whether she's made sense of it? (Answer, you can't.)

This is typical of the work Rita Katz does at SITE:

Katz then called an American counterterrorism official stationed in the young man's country, and he, in turn, sent the jihadi's e-mails to local investigators. Within twenty-four hours, they had him under surveillance, and a week later they arrested him.

That was over a year ago. An arrest isn't a conviction. That does matter, something Katz should be fully aware of:

In 2004, after she spent months helping the Department of Justice prepare a case against a young University of Idaho computer scientist named Sami Omar al-Hussayen for giving material support to terrorists, a jury acquitted him.

The New Yorker leaves it at that. Reality doesn't leave it at that. Thanks to Rita Katz's "months helping the Department of Justice" more happened then her working to falsely accuse someone who was aquitted.

From Maria Tomchick's "The Real Domestic Terrorists" (Common Dreams):

After more than a year in jail, Al-Hussayen was acquitted by a federal jury on June 10, 2004. The case against him was so thin that his defense attorneys produced only one witness, former CIA Near East division chief Frank Anderson, who testified about terrorist recruitment methods and questioned the FBI's notion that people give up their jobs and family connections to go join a jihad in Chechnya or Palestine after simply reading a few postings on the Internet. After Al-Hussayen's acquittal, Anderson said, "I take satisfaction in the verdict. But I am embarrassed and ashamed that our government has kept a decent and innocent man in jail for a very long time."
Embarrassed and ashamed is not how Al-Hussayen feels. His wife and children have been deported, his studies interrupted, his friends and associates alienated, and his liberty and sense of personal security taken completely away from him. "Terrified" might be a better word to describe the pall that's settled over the muslim community in the small college town and within university community of which Al-Hussayen was once an active and much admired member.
Although Al-Hussayen won his case, he lost so much more. He will probably choose to leave the U.S., now that his wife and children are in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the FBI and the U.S. government, which had no case to begin with, still won their objective through sheer harassment.
For those of us who exercise our free speech rights frequently--or other Constitutional rights, for that matter--Al-Hussayen's case is a chilling example. It's meant to send a message: if the government doesn't like what you have to say or doesn't want you to protest in the streets, you can spend a really long time in jail, lose your job, be denied visiting rights from your family and friends, and spend thousands of dollars defending yourself. Or you can just shut up.

Not just if the government doesn't like what you're saying, it's also if Rita Katz doesn't like what you're saying. Katz is, by the way, currently being sued by Mar-Jac Poultry.

What she's doing isn't that different than an earlier witchhunt where someone cried "Communist!" She cries "Terrorist!" And her record is such that a responsible press should have no use for her. Forget her anti-Arab hate speech, just from her "results" alone, responsible press should run from this woman.

Instead, they repeat her claims. And people suffer for it. The Times can't even argue that they use her and her organization as balance because there's no one else they're citing (no other organization is ever presented as an 'expert') -- they present her as the final word, as the only word. Questions have been raised about her organization's translations for some time and the New York Times needs to quit disgracing itself by running the rants and rambles of a xenophobe. (Or else maybe they'll continue this trend by giving Thomas Friedman's column space to Oriana Fallaci when he goes on vacation?)

Many years ago, a wonderful book was published called Naming Names. Victor Navasky (The Nation, CJR) wrote an incredible book. Reading it, years ago, my own thoughts were that it was a wonderful cautionary document (as well as an incredible read) for future generations. Now I don't think so.

I could pick the book up and reread it today -- it would hold my attention. But I'm not sure how much was learned from that book because we're on the same road again and people are acting cowardly again. There's no strong effort to sound the alarms about Katz's work. There's no attempt to explain how hideous what she's doing is. People rush to prop up the Times when it's really not under attack (again, if the government brings charges against the Times and all the usual outlets don't rush to the paper's defense -- then worry about the government, worry about the system, right now it's just publicity for both groups -- the administration and the paper). Or they're still singing the theme to The Judy Miller Show (Gilda Radner had a wonderful skit and let's hope real life events didn't tank the way that was seen). But it's not just Dexy Filkins that's given a pass (no, he's not in the paper today, sadly, since I'm really geared for an entry about the higher education Dexy -- that comment's hopefully clear to anyone who's been following the last few days but for those who need another clue "delusion" was spoken), it's Rita Katz and SITE. It's a number of other things as well but we're primarily focusing on Iraq now. But what Katz is doing is part of a witchhunt that's been ongoing and I'm honestly surprised at how little attention she's received. (I'm not referring to bloggers. For all I know, they've tackled this subject repeatedly and weekly.)

Now maybe in twenty years time, a Victoria or Vince Navasky will come along with a wonderful book that captures this time period. It may make for a riveting read, but it will be meaningless unless we apply the lessons learned from it. I'm not really sure that we're applying the history and the lessons learned (the period that Naming Names covers).

There's a lot of reluctance to speak out on this topic. When a person can espouse such anti-Arab hate statements and still be treated as a serious source, there's no evidence that analysis of earlier witchhunts has taught us anything. (There was a lot of reluctance to speak out in an earlier time as well. Then some feared being labeled a "Communist" or "Communist sympathizer" and the only difference today is that the three syllable word ending with "ist" is "terrorist" and not "Communist.") (It's also true that there was a fear of getting burned. What if the Katz-types really did know something? That sort of fear silenced a lot of otherwise brave voices in the lead up to the Iraq war.)

SITE and Katz have their supporters. Those screaming "Communist!" had their supporters as well. If someone doesn't agree with my opinion of SITE and Katz, I could be wrong. (I often am.) But disagreeing with my opinion doesn't lead to "She's right!" It only leads to: she's very questionable and her work is very questionable. So why is the paper of record using her and her organization repeatedly as a reliable source (and, in fact, as the only source)?

And why is there so little criticism of that utilization? I hope Victoria or Vance is currently in high school or younger because, to be quite frank, if I'm still alive in twenty years and I come across a Naming Names type book written by someone who is in the press today, I won't take kindly to it. I won't take kindly to the fact that someone who could have made a difference in real time is profitting in post-time from a bit of "courage" that was lacking when everything was going down -- when some vocal and repeated criticism could have made a huge difference.

The Herald Tribune had several reporters who were happy to drum up the witchhunt fever. Though the Times now owns it (International Herald Tribune -- and that's the short version of that history), it's really sad to see the sort of 'reporting' that several decades ago would have been done by 'star' reporters at that paper now pop into the New York Times.

For those who'd like another take on the topic Wong's writing of, Aaron Glatnz' "Iraqis Call for Timetable, America Cracks Down" (Common Dreams) offers some things that probably fell to the cutting room floor at the Times (for space reasons, I'm sure):

Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld paid an unannounced visit to Baghdad Wednesday, after telling reporters the Iraqi government is not yet ready to determine the pace of U.S. troop reductions. "We haven't gotten to that point," he said.
So much for Iraqi sovereignty.
It's perhaps no accident that Rumsfeld's visit comes as the Iraqi Parliament prepares to vote on a measure that would demand a timeline for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
The U.S. military has been cracking down on proponents of the measure.
The U.S. military launched an assault last week on the movement of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, conducting separate raids in Baghdad and Babylon and killing and arresting dozens of people.
"We asked them to put a timetable on their withdrawal, and they think that they should stay. This is the main reason of the conflict," explained Sadr movement spokesman Fadil el-Sharra, adding it was Sadr's representatives in Parliament who had put forward the resolution demanding a timeline on a U.S. troop withdrawal.
U.S. military officials deny the raids have anything to do with Sadr's political stance.
"I'm not very concerned at all that there's a political element to this," Major Todd Brasseale said, "because frankly there's a political element to whenever we start up a Humvee over here. But our actions are done to counter the terrorist threat and provide security and stability in Baghdad."
Sadr has millions of followers across Iraq with dozens of seats in the Iraqi Parliament. Early on in the occupation, his Mehdi militia clashed with the U.S. military, but in the summer of 2004 he signed a peace agreement and agreed to join the political process.

Turning to Iraq today, though they war pornographers were turning their eyes elsewhere, Iraq, no surprise, isn't as "calm" as the media keeps attempting to reassure us it is. Right now the AP's telling you "about 30" people have been kidnapped. Reuters notes that, this in Baghdad -- 'crackdown' central, about thirty officials or atheletes and twenty-one bodyguards were kidnapped. (The AP has now upped their coverage to fifty.) Reuters covers the death of three brothers (two Iraqi soldiers) in Baquba (no, this isn't the item from earlier this week where three brothers were kidnapped and their corpses found the next day), a car bomb that killed two police officers in Baghdad, a roadside bomb that killed a US soldier, a computer bomb in Kirkuk that killed at least one person in an internet cafe, and two dead from armed clashes in Baghdad. The AFP states two were killed in the internet cafe and notes this on the brothers:
"To the east of Baghdad on Saturday, in the mixed Sunni-Shiite province of Diyala, another hotbed of sectarian violence, four people were killed, including three brothers who were ambushed just outside Baquba." The AP does note "a series of bomb blasts in a commercial area of the southern Saidiya district killed seven people and wounded 12."

And, from Reuters, will note this:

BAGHDAD - The U.S. military said initial reports indicated that an Apache attack helicopter that crashed in a dangerous area southwest of Baghdad on Thursday was brought down by hostile fire.

Now, if on Thursday, the domestic media hadn't played footsie with the military, Americans could have learned on Friday morning that the helicopter was brought down. We noted it here (Reuters or AFP) and the public account was full of "It's not true!" e-mails. Well, it was true. And there's a reason that you're only hearing of it confirmed (in a tiny item) days after. The crew was rescued before any press reports went out. The US military knew damn well what happened. But if most Americans started their weekend with the news that a US helicopter was shot down, we might not be ready for the chat & chews on Sunday which seem to exist largely to tell us that things are getting better. Things are not getting better. The military can delay confirmations (or reporting deaths) all they want, they can attempt to release news late and hope it gets buried in what passes for reporting (for most) on Saturday. You can't market an illegal war and 'stay-the-course-'till-everyone's dead' without delaying and distorting reality.

Carl notes Margaret Kimberley's latest, "American Infidels Rape Iraq" (Freedom Rider, The Black Commentator):

How is a rape and murder planned? Does one man casually say, "She's hot, let's rape her," and hope that someone else says, "Hell yes!" Is the crime spelled out, or are there mutually understood winks and nudges. Is the conversation brutal or casual and banal?
Abeer Qasim Hamza and her family are now dead because of those chilling words, however they were spoken. Her countrymen and women are still being killed and imprisoned so they can be better off. That is what the president and most members of Congress tell us. Abeer and thousands like her have to be shot, imprisoned, raped and killed for their own good.

[. . .]
It is all spelled out in Green's arrest warrant.
According to SOI3 (Source of Information), GREEN and KP1 (Known Participant) proceeded to have sex with a woman. After GREEN was finished having sex with the woman, SOI3 witnessed GREEN stand up with an AK47 in his hand. GREEN walked over to the woman and shot her several times.
The murders took place on March 12, 2006 and were immediately reported to the U.S. military. No effort was made
to find perpetrators. It was dismissed as an Iraqi on Iraqi crime.
It is difficult to believe that no one in the military knew the truth. Americans were not officially suspected until two soldiers came forward with information during counseling sessions that took place three months later. By that time Green had been discharged with a "personality disorder." He now awaits trial in federal court as a civilian.
How many Abeers are in Iraq? It is hard to believe that she was the only rape victim in three years of occupation. How many Greens are there in the military? It is taboo to even ask the question. No American politician, even those speaking against the occupation, discuss it without reference to "our brave men and women in uniform."

This is really too strong for just one note so I'll try to remember to work it into Sunday evening's entry as well.

Here's what's scheduled for RadioNation with Laura Flanders this weekend:

Making sense out of the senseless, and supreme victories against surpeme odds. First the good news. Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-CA, on House renewal (without bad GOP amendments) of the National Voting Rights Act. And Bill Goodman, Center for Constitutional Rights legal director on its Supreme Court victory against torture at Guantanamo. Then, responding to a new wave of war. Jerry Levin, the CNN Middle East bureau chief taken hostage in Lebanon in 1984, on why force doesn't work and Robbie Damelin of Parent's Circle, the Israeli-Palestinian group of bereaved parents agrees. Plus singer-songwriter Chip Taylor, who wrote "Wild Thing" and other hits way back when on his new CD "Unglorious Hallelujah." And a report on getting home safe with Right
Our media rountable features Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald reporter on Guantanamo and Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive. Then feminist, revolutionary historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz draws on connections between the Contra wars in Central America with todays wars in the Middle East and on the poor in the US.

Matthew Rothschild, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (CounterPunch) and Bill Goodman, among others. Should be something on the two shows for everyone.

Also remember: Saturday July 15th is a day of action calling for Suzanne Swift to receive an honorable discharge including a protest, "at the gates of Ft. Lewis (exit 119) beginning at 12 pm with a press converence at 3 pm" in Washington state -- while in Eugen, Oregon there will be a demonstration outside the Federal Building at noon.

Finally, the following sites have posted since yesterday evening:

Betty (of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man) continues substituting for Rebecca at Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude;
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills);
Mike of Mikey Likes It!;
Trina of Trina's Kitchen;
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz (Elaine's back)
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix;
and Wally of The Daily Jot

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