Sunday, December 03, 2006

And the war drags on . . .

I don't know what horrors this young man lived through, though I overheard him telling one shocked woman in the gym that his time in Iraq represented "the best years of my life." I do know that what U.S. forces did in Fallujah in late 2004 was a collective war crime, with captured and wounded enemy fighters shown on camera being executed point-blank, residential neighborhoods leveled by bombs and tank fire, innocent men and even boys illegally barred from fleeing the scene of battle, fleeing civilians shot as they swam for safety across the river carrying white flags, and hospitals attacked. The entire assault on Fallujah, for that matter, was a case of collective punishment--something outlawed since World War II as a war crime. No one who participated in that mass atrocity could walk away unimpaired in some way.
The most positive thing I can bring away from this encounter is the recognition that the anger and frustration expressed by this ex-Marine is a sign that the American war in Iraq has truly been lost. Back in late 2003, I wrote a piece about this same shirt, which I bought and began wearing on the day of the Iraq invasion. I had observed that when I first wore it in March 2003, it mostly elicited angry denunciations and hand gestures from people caught up in the blind jingoism of the moment, but that by late September, just six months into the war, the majority of people who saw the shirt had positive comments. Over the years, as the war has become even more of a disaster, the shirt, despite becoming pretty seedy looking from long use, has become increasingly popular, with people now asking where they can buy one like it.
I view this veteran's belligerent response to my shirt and its message as just a corollary of this changed political environment. As the "cause" for which he gave up several years of his young life--and in the name of which he almost certainly lost friends and comrades--goes down the drain, to be remembered as one of America's historic policy disasters and one of its few military defeats, he is reacting in the way he has been trained: by threatening violence.

We're starting with that, from Dave Lindorff's "Fighting the Iraq War ... At Home" (CounterPunch). Brandon highlighted it and copied and pasted the entire thing in his e-mail noting he couldn't pick one section. It starts with Lindorff wearing his shirt in opposition to the illegal war in the gym and being threatened for it. He goes for a run, gets back, addresses the situation, then reflects on a similar incident during the Vietnam era. It's a strong piece of writing. Brandon wondered whether he should feel "this is brave?"

That wasn't an insult to Lindorff and Brandon noted that Lindorff's usually straight forward. But he questioned (and he tied it into this piece) because so many people don't want to address this sort of topic. I agree with Brandon's comments (and have asked him if we can share them here or in Friday's gina & krista round-robin). I don't want to take away from Lindorff's article (which is a very strong one) and I don't want to suggest that it doesn't take a level of bravery these days to write like that. But I do get Brandon's point which (my summary) is when so many want to hide behind generals and officers and pass 'strategy' talk off as addressing an illegal war, it does take bravery or clarity (or both) (and more) to write something like Lindorff's written.

We're not seeing it. We're seeing a lot of hiding which, at this late date, strikes me as cowardly and confused. (Brandon didn't bring up a perfect example, the one that led Lindorff to leave a certain rag.) If it matters to you, if the illegal war matters, I guess you have no choice but to speak straight forward. If it doesn't or if you're scared (and stupid because the country has turned against the war some time ago and it's not going to suddenly support it), you waste a lot of time.

You can turn around and blame it on "kids today" but that's not reality. Students are active. You can pin it on the peace movement, but that's not reality. The peace movement has grown and, largely, it has done so with very little help from any media.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.

-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, the American military fatality count in Iraq stood at 2876. Today? 2900. Earlier today, the US military announces today: "A Multi-National Corps -- Iraq Soldier died from injuries sustained when the convoy he was traveling in struck an improvised explosive device near Taji, Iraq, at approximately 8:30 a.m. Saturday" and "Two Soldiers assigned to the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) were killed by an improvised explosive device while conducting a security patrol in the Al Anbar province of Iraq Dec 2." Since then, they've also announced: "Baghdad Soldier was killed during combat operations in the Iraqi capital Dec. 3."
and they've announced: "Two Soldiers assigned to 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group and one Marine assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5 died Saturday from wounds sustained due to enemy action while operating in Al Anbar Province."
And Monday morning (which it already is in Baghdad -- it's almost seven p.m. as I type this and it's already 5:51 a.m. Monday in Iraq), the US military has announced: "Two Task Force Lightning Soldiers, assigned to 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, were killed and two others were wounded from an explosion near their vehicle that occurred while they were conducting operations in Multi-National Division -- North, Dec. 3. The two wounded Soldiers were transported to Coalition Forces' medical treatment facilities."

Turning to war resistance, Trina asked that we note Edward Colimore's "Marine pushes for conscientious-objector discharge" (AP) again:

Marine Corps Lance Corporal John Rogowskyj Jr. says he is a conscientious objector and should be discharged from the service.
He has been interviewed by a military chaplain, examined by a psychiatrist, and questioned by a hearing officer who recommended conscientious objector, or CO, status and immediate separation. But this month, Rogowskyj was deployed to Iraq.
The 22-year-old from Pennsauken , Pa., now serves on a heavily armed patrol boat protecting hydroelectric plants along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and Lake Qadisiyah .
"I believe that God has given man free will. . . . By surrendering my will to the military, I realize that I have willfully propagated violence," he said in legal documents.
Rogowskyj is one of a handful of troops who, in the past few years, have sought to leave the service as conscientious objectors or be placed in noncombat roles. He has taken his case for discharge to federal court in Washington.

Trina wrote about this Saturday morning and lost the entry. When she was able to salvage something of her entry she just posted it before more Blogger/Blogspot problems occurred. (The morning entry on Saturday here was lost repeatedly and took over five hours to post. In addition, Ruth lost the report she was working on. Her latest report is up now.) Rogowskyj appears to be receiving The Full Brobeck so we'll glady note Colimore's article again.

In other things to note Charles Amico is addressing Iraq at We the People and Zach passed this on about KPFA's special, gavel to gavel broadcast (time given in Pacific):

KPFA Special Broadcast: Robert Gates Confirmation Hearing
Tuesday, December 5th, 06:00am
Live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Robert Gates Secretary of Defense confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. With Larry Bensky, Aaron Glantz and our guest experts.

KPFA will broadcast the hearing over the airwaves and online, in addition the Pacifica website will carry the coverage. Others? I don't know. If there's a Pacifica station you listen to, e-mail and we'll note it along with the above in tomorrow's snapshot. (Jess is adding the announcement to the editorial at The Third Estate Sunday Review right now.) Robert Gates is a Rumsfled clone (see "Editorial: Return of the Toad, Robert Gates") and for more on why this hearing important, consult Robert Parry's work at Consortium News. It will matter, even if everyone rolls over, avoids asking the needed confirmation and plays nice. Why? Because you'll know what to expect when the new Congress is sworn in January. You know the one that's supposedly going to change everything. We're not seeing any real indications of that so far but we're supposed to take it on faith. On a similar note, Cindy highlights Stephen Zunes' "After January 3, It Will Be the Democrats' War" (Foreign Policy in Focus via Common Dreams):

With power comes responsibility. Once they take over both houses of Congress on January 3, the Democrats will have the responsibility to get American troops out of Iraq as soon as practicable.
The United States has now been at war in Iraq longer than it fought the Axis powers in World War II. The American public has lost patience. Currently, public opinion polls show that only 31% of the population supports Bush administration policy toward the conflict. A majority of voters surveyed wants a withdrawal of American troops, and a majority of registered Democrats wants an immediate withdrawal. Despite efforts by Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, to provide extensive funds for pro-war Democratic candidates while denying them to anti-war Democratic candidates, anti-war candidates actually out-performed pro-war candidates in defeating Republican incumbents.
However, in defiance of their constituents and oblivious to the polls, very few Democrats in the House and none in the Senate have been willing to call for immediate withdrawal, at most calling for some kind of "phased withdrawal" or "strategic redeployment." Although most Democrats who have spoken out against the war have criticized the Bush administration's conduct of the war, they have fallen short of declaring the war itself illegal and immoral. Nor have many acknowledged that the conquest by a Western power of such a large Middle Eastern state was doomed from the beginning.
Where's the Spine?
The November 7 election provided a mandate to change U.S. policy toward Iraq. Early signs, however, indicate that the Democrats are unwilling to fulfill their anti-war mandate. By more than a 2:1 margin, the pro-war Rep. Steny Hoyer beat the anti-war Rep. Jack Murtha in the race for majority leader. Perhaps more significantly, it appears that the Democrats will have two outspoken supporters of the Iraq war as their chief foreign policy spokesmen.

[For a topic not war related but demonstrating some are actually at work, check out Joshua Scheer's intereview with Dennis Kucinich on health care legislation.]

Susan wonders, "Is Vietnam the new Woodstock?" From Editor & Publisher's "'Boston Globe': Head of American Legion Lies About Being Vietnam Veteran:"

The national commander of the American Legion never served in Vietnam although he describes himself as a "Vietnam veteran," a newspaper reported Sunday.Paul A. Morin, who was elected Aug. 31 to a one-year term as commander of the nation's largest veterans organization, spent his time in the Army from 1972 to 1974 at Fort Dix, N.J., The Boston Sunday Globe reported.
Neither the federal government nor the 2.7 million-member American Legion makes a formal distinction between veterans who served in Vietnam and those known as "Vietnam-era" veterans.
"I am a Vietnam veteran," Morin, of Chicopee in western Massachusetts, told the newspaper. His biography on the Legion's Web site also describes Morin as a "Vietnam veteran of the US Army."
The Legion's top spokesman, Joe March, backed Morin's position. He said any current service member stationed in the United States at present could claim to be an Iraq war veteran.

For those too young to get Susan's joke, more people claimed to be at Woodstock (after it was over, and after the press did their 180 turn around in their coverage of it) than actually were.

In Iraq, AFP reports fifty corpses were discovered in Baghdad today, a bombing in Kirkuk killed three police officers and "And Shiite imam Taha Yassin, close to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, was shot dead after evening prayers near his home in the southern city of Najaf."

James in Brighton notes "UN chief tells of Iraq war sorrow" (BBC):

The outgoing United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has told the BBC that the situation in Iraq has become "much worse" than a civil war.
Mr Annan, who leaves office after 10 years on 31 December, said life for the average Iraqi was now worse than under the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Expressing his sadness for being unable to prevent the war, he urged regional and international powers to help Iraq.

Reuters reports three college students injured in a bombing in Basra, six corpses were discovered in Mosul, a car bomb in Mosul claimed the lives of two police officers and left two more wounded, a shooting in Kerbala claimed three lives and left two wounded, in Baghdad two bombings and one mortar round (mortar attack on a "secondary school") left 26 injured and three dead, and (dropping back to Saturday) Haitham Yassin was kidnapped in Baghdad ("adviser to the electricity minister") while the corpse of Hidaib Mejhoul was discovered in Baghdad and he'd "been shot twice in the head and his body had signs of torture."

Mehjoul was the kidnap victim Kirk Semple noted this morning in "String of 3 Car Bombs Kills 51 at Busy Market in Baghdad" (New York Times) which also addresses other violence and notes the kidnapping last week (see Friday) of Hadib Majhoul.

And the last highlight goes to Pru. To provide some background, the 'war' on reality didn't just take place in the US and, in England, those in positions of power in the media had serious attacks including a government investigation into the BBC report of cooked intel. Before that, how did they handle British media handle the coverage? Pru highlights Dr. Piers Robinson's "Iraq and the information war" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

On 19 March 2003, a week before the start of the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair wrote a furious letter to BBC director-general Greg Dyke and BBC chairman Gavyn Davies. He accused the BBC's coverage of being biased against the war.
"I believe, and I am not alone in believing, that you have not got the balance right between support and dissent," he wrote.
Less than a year later, in the wake of the David Kelly affair, both Dyke and Davies were sacked.
Were the BBC and other mainstream news sources biased against the war?
A comprehensive and meticulous new study by social scientists from Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds universities set out to answer this ­question--and answered it overwhelmingly in the negative.
The team analysed newspaper and TV stories from the days leading up to the invasion until one week after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It found that stories dealing with the justifications for war "overwhelmingly reflected the official line", with over 80 percent of stories mirroring the government position and less than 12 percent challenging it.
Even papers that had been against the war, such as the Mirror and the Independent, were broadly supportive during the military campaign.
The researchers were led by Dr Piers Robinson, lecturer in international politics at Manchester university. He said the team's research stands in the tradition of Daniel Hallin's pioneering study of how the US media covered the Vietnam War.
Hallin demolished the right wing myth that the US lost because the "liberal media" undermined the war effort. Instead he showed how media coverage sanitised the war and largely uncritically reflected the US line.
Robinson's team wanted to see whether similar bias was apparent in the case of the British media's coverage of the war on Iraq.
The huge degree of political controversy surrounding the decision to go to war was another factor drawing the team to study the invasion.
"We wanted to find out how much of that criticism fed through into ­critical or adversarial media coverage."
"These are standard questions, but they're important ones that should inform academic debate, journalists, policy makers and the public at large."
The team drew upon Hallin and various US studies of news bias during election campaigns to produce a "combined methodology" that would give a comprehensive overview of media coverage, said Robinson.
Press and TV reports during the invasion were entered into a database, marked with "indicators" as to what themes they covered, what sources were used, and whether the overall report was critical or supportive of the various players.
The criteria for these indicators was set out explicitly and clearly in order to minimise subjective bias from the researchers.
In particular, the aim was to produce results that could be checked and replicated by other social scientists, ensuring that the study was objective, systematic and authoritative.
One aspect of the coverage considered by the group involved the role of new technology in reporting the invasion. It is often claimed that technological advances make it harder to control the media and increase its autonomy--but Robinson said he was "very cautious" about these arguments.
"The impact of new technology has primarily been changes in style rather than substance," he said. "The key thing was the use of embedded journalists using video phones and portable equipment to report directly from army units."
The effect of this was that news of the invasion was dominated by the point of view of invading coalition troops.
"Embedding was seen as a positive and successful strategy by the coalition. It focused reporting onto a subject area they felt confident about--toppling the Iraqi regime. So whatever empowering effect technology might have, it was not necessarily in play during the invasion phase."
Robinson's team also looked into how "changes in geopolitical order after Cold War" affected the reporting of the invasion.
Here they noted the crucial role played by "humanitarian" arguments for war in framing the British media coverage of Iraq.
"At a broad ideological level, it would appear that the humanitarian warfare narrative, promoted by the Blair government since the 1999 Kosovo campaign, functioned to limit the extent of media autonomy towards the conflict as the ideology of anti-Communism did throughout the Cold War years," the report says. Robinson noted that while the US media reported the Iraq invasion in terms of the "war on terror", that particular justification did not feature so strongly in British coverage.
"In Britain the humanitarian ­rationale was the main justification for the conflict--that was the narrative that took hold," he said.
"This is the new ideological imperative shaping the limits of media," he added. "And the Blair government has been very effective at promoting it among liberal internationalist elements in the media."
The war was justified because of human rights abuses, even though "in objective terms" this humanitarian case was weak and difficult to make.
The invasion of Iraq came a few weeks after the two million strong anti-war demonstration organised by the Stop the War Coalition on 15 February 2003. Robinson's team examined what effect, if any, this massive public dissent had on the media.
"The coverage of the anti-war movement was much more positive prior to the conflict," said Robinson. "But during the invasion phase itself it was pushed out onto margins--only 6 percent of quotes in the press came from anti-war activists, and it was less for TV coverage."
Nevertheless, the dissent did surface in the form of "critical coverage of casualties and humanitarian issues" during the war.
Robinson calls this "procedural criticism"--reports that did not question the underlying motives for the invasion, but criticised how the invasion was being carried out.
"There was a lot of focus on minimising civilian casualties, for instance," said Robinson.
"So that kind of dissent from the anti-war movement translated, not into debate about the war's rationale, but into fiercer and greater scepticism over the humanitarian side. The dissent continued, but it was bounded into those areas."
In particular, Robinson suspects that the coverage of Iraqi civilian casualties was much higher during the 2003 invasion than during the 1991 Gulf War.
"The critical coverage put pressure on the invading coalition to fight the war in a particular way. In particular, there was a good deal of scepticism about the idea that Iraq was using civilians as 'human shields'--not many journalists bought into that defensive line from the coalition."
These caveats aside, however, the overall tone and content of mainstream media coverage of the invasion was overwhelmingly in favour of the ­coalition.
Why does this happen, when ­journalism is "supposed" to be ­objective and unbiased?
One aspect of this is the workings of power in the media industry, a theme explored in depth by scholars such as Noam Chomsky.
"The government certainly has a privileged position, and the media relies very heavily on government sources," said Robinson.
"The economics of the industry are important as well," he added, noting that Sky News--owned by the rabidly pro-war Rupert Murdoch--was the "most upbeat TV coverage" when it came to reporting coalition operations.
But the corporate-controlled nature of the mainstream media is only part of the story. There is also a deeper ideological dimension to how media coverage is shaped.
"In times of war, the issue of nationalism is more important than any other factor," Robinson explained.
"It's not blatant patriotism, but rather the idea that when our country goes to war we should support our troops. This introduces constraints on the media coverage that shape its broader contours."
Robinson is deeply critical of much of the mainstream media, but doesn't believe that a new alternative media is emerging to replace it.
"I think the talk about the internet and alternative news sources is overblown," he said.
"They are no substitute for our mainstream media performing a healthy watchdog role--most people get their news from the mainstream media, not by surfing the net.
"I believe it is possible for the media to play that role--Channel 4 News, for instance, was the most successful at maintaining its autonomy from the government, especially with regards to the war's justification."
Ensuring that the media plays this "watchdog" role requires an extensive debate among both journalists and the public.
"We need to look at how journalists go about gathering news, and how to increase the range of sources," said Robinson.
But this leads back to questions about nationalism. "What do we expect in these situations of conflict? There's a school of thought that says the British media shouldn't criticise British troops during a war, and there’s another school that argues against that.
"Our research shows that whatever the case, we aren't getting the whole truth--and people need to at least recognise that."
The research team is now working on a book length version of its studies, and is also looking for funding to extend its pioneering methodology to examine the media's role during the run-up to the war and in the post-invasion occupation phase, Robinson added.
"Our intention was to produce an intense and sophisticated template for analysing the media coverage of the invasion. There's now the longer term project of taking that template and applying it elsewhere--but that requires getting money and resources!"
The following should be read alongside this article: »
How Iraq media coverage was spun in the government's favour» Al Jazeera – another view of the conflict
Dr Piers Robinson spoke to Anindya Bhattacharyya. The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). You can download a copy of Media Wars: News Media Performance and Media Management During the 2003 Iraq War from the ESRC website
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