Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Propaganda and Haditha

By Dahr Jamail and Jeff Pflueger
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Friday 09 June 2006

*In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by
a bodyguard of lies.*
- Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during World War II

Propaganda is when the Western corporate media tries to influence public
opinion in favor of the Iraq War by consistently tampering with truth
and distorting reality. It is to be expected. And it is to be recognized
for what it is. On occasions when the media does its job responsibly and
reports events like the November 19, 2005, Haditha Massacre, it must
also be willing and able to anticipate and counter propaganda campaigns
that will inevitably follow. It is to be expected that the responsible
members of the media fraternity will stick to their guns and not join
the propagandists.

This piece is a summary of five most commonly deployed crisis management
propaganda tactics which the State and Media combine that we can expect
to see in relation to the Haditha Massacre. Listed in a loose
chronological order of their deployment, the tactics are: Delay,
Distract, Discredit, Spotlight and Scapegoat. Each of the five public
relations campaigns will here be discussed in the context of the Haditha


Al-Jazeera channel, with over 40 million viewers in the Arab world, is
the largest broadcaster of news in the Middle East. It has been bearing
the brunt of an ongoing violent US propaganda campaign. Their station
headquarters in both Afghanistan and Baghdad were destroyed by US forces
during the US invasions of both countries. In Baghdad, the attack on
their office by a US warplane killed their correspondent Tareq Ayoub.
Additionally, al-Jazeera reporters throughout Iraq have been
systematically detained and intimidated before the broadcaster was
banned outright from the country. These are somewhat contradictory
actions for an occupying force ostensibly attempting to promote
democracy and freedom in Iraq.

On November 19, 2005, the day of the Haditha Massacre, al-Jazeera had
long since been banned from operating in Iraq. The station forced to
conduct its war reporting from a desk in Doha, Qatar, was doing so via
telephone. Two Iraqis worked diligently to cover the US occupation of
Iraq through a loose network of contacts within Iraq. Defying the
US-imposed extreme challenges, al-Jazeera, by dint of its responsible
reporting, had the entire Haditha scoop as soon as it occurred, which
they shared with Western and other media outlets, while the latter were
content to participate in delaying the story nearly four months by
regurgitating unverified military releases.

Two days after the massacre, was the only free place
on the Internet that carried al-Jazeera's report
<> translated into
English (it could be viewed at for a fee).

The anchorperson for al-Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, interviewed journalist
Walid Khalid in Bahgdad. Khalid's report, translated by,
was as follows:

Yesterday evening, an explosive charge went off under a US Marines
vehicle in the al-Subhani area, destroying it completely. Half an hour
later, the US reaction was violent. US aircraft bombarded four houses
near the scene of the incident, causing the immediate death of five
Iraqis. Afterward, the US troops stormed three adjacent houses where
three families were living near the scene of the explosion. Medical
sources and eyewitnesses close to these families affirmed that the US
troops, along with the Iraqi Army, executed 21 persons; that is, three
families, including nine children and boys, seven women, and three
elderly people.

Contrast this to the reportage of the slaughter by the New York Times,
the "newspaper of note" in the United States. Unquestioningly parroting
the military press release, their story of November 21, 2005, read: "The
Marine Corps said Sunday that 15 Iraqi civilians and a Marine were
killed Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded in Haditha, 140 miles
northwest of Baghdad. The bombing on Saturday in Haditha, on the
Euphrates in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, was aimed at a
convoy of American Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers, said Capt. Jeffrey
S. Pool, a Marine spokesman. After the explosion, gunmen opened fire on
the convoy. At least eight insurgents were killed in the firefight, the
captain said."

The organization Iraq Body Count (IBC) immediately endorsed this,
clearly demonstrating how its tally of Iraqi civilian deaths due to the
war is way below the actual numbers. Exclusively referencing samples
from the Western media that willingly embrace the official propaganda,
IBC can hardly constitute an unbiased or truthful source of information.

In April 2006, their database of media sources cited an AP story and a
Reuters story from November 20, 2005, along with a March 21, 2006,
London Times article. This is how IBC distilled the stories; "Haditha -
fighting between US Marines and insurgents-gunfire" and the number of
civilians killed was recorded as 15. It is difficult to understand why
IBC has once again opted to cite US fabrications mindlessly repeated by
the Western media rather than take into account the readily available
English translation of al-Jazeera's Haditha report.

On June 6, 2006, the Haditha Massacre is recorded by IBC as "family
members in their houses and students in a passing car" and the declared
number of victims is 24. One cannot help wonder how many uncorrected,
unverified and unchallenged pieces of US military propaganda lurk in
IBC's database. Haditha could be just the tip of the iceberg.

It wasn't until four months after the event that the Western corporate
media started to straighten out the story. On March 19, 2006, it was
Time Magazine that "broke" the Haditha story in a piece titled
"Collateral Damage or Civilian Massacre in Haditha." The primary sources
for this piece were a video shot by an Iraqi journalism student produced
the day after the massacre and interviews conducted with witnesses.
Another glaring evidence of how a few simple interviews with Iraqis and
some readily available photographs and video can drastically correct the
glaring errors in the Western media's representations of the occupation.

It is significant that this "exclusive" story came from the same
publication that graced its cover with George W. Bush as the 2004 Person
of the Year for "reframing reality to match his design." That brazen
advertisement for the most unpopular re-elected US president in history
more than establishes the fact that the magazine has an agenda that has
less to do with responsible journalism than it does with influencing
public opinion. That Time set its clocks back four months in regard to
Haditha, when evidence was readily available the day after the event,
only supports the charge that it willingly participates in US state
propaganda. Journalists should aggressively expose the truth that Time,
like its acclaimed 2004 person of the year, also reframes reality to
match its design. If journalists do not look at Time's story with a
skeptical eye as an exercise in PR before jumping on the Haditha
bandwagon, they too risk shortchanging the public's trust with a
meaningless opportunity to participate in a PR crisis anagement campaign.

But the Haditha Massacre is far from being the only story that the
Western corporate media has delayed covering. On May 4, 2004, journalist
Dahr Jamail, one of the authors of this piece, wrote "Telltale Signs of
Torture Lead Family to Demand Answers." The story, published by the
NewStandard <>,
was about a 57-year-old Iraqi named Sadiq Zoman, who was detained at his
residence in Kirkuk on July 21, 2003, when US troops raided the Zoman
family home in search of weapons and, apparently, to arrest Zoman. Over
a month later, on August 23, soldiers dropped Zoman off, comatose, at
the main hospital in Tikrit. His body bore telltale signs of torture
point burns on his skin, bludgeon marks on the back of his head, a badly
broken thumb, electrical burns on the soles of his feet and genitals and
whip marks across his back.

Jamail originally wrote the story in January 2004 and shared the
information with over 100 newspapers in the US for them to report on.
The story was conveniently ignored by the US corporate media until it
was forced to run other torture photos from Abu Ghraib after journalist
Seymour Hersh threatened to scoop 60 Minutes II by running his piece
about torture in the New Yorker, in late April 2004.

Another example of this delayed "reporting" involved the report on the
use of white phosphorous by the US military against civilians in
Fallujah during the November 2004 assault on the city. Jamail originally
a story titled "Unusual Weapons Used in Fallujah" with Inter Press
Service. US corporate media ignored the story
until the Independent in the UK ran his reporting about the atrocity.
Even after this, aside from a few token editorials that mentioned this
war crime, most major news outlets continued in their silence. This
despite the fact that the Pentagon admitted to the use of these weapons,
and residents of Fallujah like Abu Sabah had long since told a reporter,
"They used these weird bombs that put up smoke like a mushroom cloud,
then small pieces fall from the air with long tails of soke behind
them." He also described pieces of these bombs that exploded into large
fires that burnt the skin when water was thrown on the burns.

There are countless other stories which the US corporate media has
deliberately delayed from their reportage and which may never reach the
wide US audience that they deserve. It is necessary to ask, when will
the corporate media report on stories such as the following:

*November 19, 2004:* "As US Forces Raided
a Mosque," Inter Press Service (At least four worshippers are killed and
20 wounded during Friday prayers when US and Iraqi forces raided Abu
Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad.

*April 19, 2004:* "US Troops Raid Abu Hanifa Mosque, Destroy Fallujah
Relief Goods," The NewStandard News (Tanks and Humvees are used to crash
through the gates
<> of a mosque in
the middle of the night. Foodstuffs stockpiled for Fallujah relief are
destroyed, worshippers are terrorized, shots fired, copies of the Holy
Qu'ran are desecrated.)

*December 13, 2004:* "US Military Obstructing Medical Care," Inter Press
Service (US military prevented delivery of medical care
in several instances and regularly raided hospitals in Iraq.)

*April 23, 2004:* "Fallujah Residents Report US Forces Engaged in
Collective Punishment," The NewStandard News (Despite what Marines
called a "ceasefire" in Fallujah, refugees trapped outside and Fallujans
still under siege continued to face measures of collective punishment

*January 3, 2004:* "US Military Terrorism
<> and
Collective Punishment in Iraq" (Mortars fired
at a farmer's home and land in al-Dora, near Baghdad. As Jamail wrote in
the aforementioned web log at that time, residents reported, "We don't
know why they bomb our house and our fields. We have never resisted the
Americans. There are foreign fighters who have passed through here, and
I think this is who they want. But why are they bombing us?" When the
farmer was asked what happened when he requested that US military remove
the unexploded mortar rounds, he said, "We asked them the first time and
they said 'OK, we'll come take care of it.' But they never came. We
asked them the second time and they told us they would not remove them
until we gave them a resistance fighter. They told us, 'If yo won't give
us a resistance fighter, we are not coming to remove the bombs.'" He
held his hands in the air and said, "But we don't know any resistance

*November 18, 2004:* "Media Repression in 'Liberated' Land," Inter Press
Service (Journalists increasingly detained and threatened
by the US-installed interim government in Iraq. Media were stopped
particularly from covering recent horrific events in Fallujah. The "100
Orders" penned by former US administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer
included Order 65, passed March 20, 2004, to establish an Iraqi
communications and media commission. This commission has powers to
control the media because it has complete control over licensing and
regulating telecommunications, broadcasting, information services and
all other media establishments. Within days of the "handover" of power
to an interim Iraqi government in June 2004, the Baghdad office of
al-Jazeera was raided and closed by security forces from the interim
government. The network was banned initially for one month from reorting
out of Iraq, subsequently extended to "indefinitely." The media
commission ordered all news organizations to "stick to the government
line on the US-led offensive in Fallujah or face legal action.")

*February 14, 2005:* "Media Held Guilty of Deception," Inter Press
Service (A people's tribunal held much of Western media guilty
of inciting violence and deceiving people in its reporting of Iraq. The
panel of judges in the Rome meeting of the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI),
an international people's initiative seeking to unearth the truth about
the war and occupation in Iraq, accused the United States and the
British governments of impeding journalists in performing their task,
and intentionally producing lies and misinformation.)


Once a damaging, and most likely delayed, story hits the Western
corporate media consciousness, concurrent stories may be released that
distract the audience or dilute the potency of the main story. The
handling of the Haditha story by corporate Western media is being
managed similarly.

For example, on June 1, 2006, the BBC released a story detailing an
alleged "massacre" at Ishaqi on March 15, 2006. Dahr Jamail had reported
on the incident
and had photographs posted
nearly two months before. The BBC's story was suspicious
<>: not
only was it delayed by two and a half months, but its timing was
concurrent with a peak in media interest in the Haditha Massacre
scandal. Meanwhile, the BBC's version of the Ishaqi story itself, while
tragic, didn't seem to be much of a scandal at all. It was not
surprising that the day after the BBC story "broke," ABC published a
story entitled, "US Military Denies New Abuse Allegation at Ishaqi"
reporting that the US Military had conductd an investigation and found
that there was no basis for claims of a massacre at Ishaqi. The idea
that the BBC could "break" a story and the military could respond,
investigate and have a press release about it in time for ABC to report
findings of innocence the next day is unbelievable if not outright
ridiculous. This series of media events served primarily to distract
people from the Haditha story and sow seeds of doubt in their minds
about the Haditha Massacre. One would expect savvy journalists to
recognize the set-up from a mile away.

On June 5, 2006, the New York Times provides us with two additional
distractions - one involving paid Internet advertising and the other the
front page of the paper.

If one did a Google search on "Haditha" on June 5th, one was presented
with a story entitled "Disbelief Over Haditha": via Google's AdSense.
The story is essentially a patriotic piece comprised of interviews with
military individuals at Camp Pendelton on Memorial Day where the
interviewees were granted a national audience in the Times and an
opportunity to shower sympathy on the soldiers involved in the massacre
and cast doubt on the event itself. The fact that the NYT is paying for
this story to appear every time one types in "Haditha" in Google, and
that this story unarguably serves to create doubts about the events that
occurred in Haditha, is clearly a distraction from the horrendous fact
of the massacre itself. A question to ask: why isn't the New York Times
paying to promote a neutral piece about the Haditha Massacre rather than
for a piece promoting blatant and exclusive American patriotism and denial?

But on this same day, the New York Times goes further in obfuscating the
Haditha Massacre with distraction and doubt by swallowing whole a media
event sponsored by the US military. Two reporters were flown by the US
government to an excavated mass grave site in a military helicopter. The
mass grave site was ostensibly created when Saddam Hussein's secret
police murdered people connected with the Shiite uprising in 1991.
Coincidentally, the number of people found in this site is 28, nearly
the same number allegedly killed in the Haditha Massacre. The reason
that the US flew the reporters to the site is clear; this story of a
similar massacre at Saddam Hussein's hands distracts the public from the
Haditha Massacre with the faulty logic of, "Well, if he did it ..." The
New York Times did not feel the need to delay the story and published
"Uncovering Iraq's Horrors in Desert Graves" on the front page merely
two days after the journalists received a government tour of the site.
After the kind of directed criticim of the role that the New York Times,
via US state and military propagandists like Judith Miller and Thomas
Friedman, has played in orchestrating Iraq War propaganda, one would
imagine that reputable journalists would know better than to accept a
US-sponsored media outing in Iraq. Reputable journalists should
additionally wonder why the New York Times continues to accept this type
of propaganda as news, while ignoring events such as the ones where the
people of Fallujah dug mass graves to bury the thousands killed during
the US assault of the city in November 2004.

But the mother of all distractions came on June 8, 2006, in the media
spasm over the alleged killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We can be
certain of this week's front page news. The ridiculous thing is that
Zarqawi himself is perhaps more a US propaganda and media fabrication
more than a real threat to the Iraqi people, let alone the security of
the US. The story of Zarqawi served to simplify and put an al-Qaeda face
on what is really a much more complicated situation regarding the
resistance and rising sectarian tensions in Iraq. Now with Zarqawi's
alleged death reported by the US Government, the media is swallowing the
state's version of this story whole, despite all the fraud that we've
seen in past US propaganda stunts, such as the Jessica Lynch "rescue,"
the Pat Tillman fabrication, the pulling down of Saddam Hussein's statue
in Firdos Square in Baghdad, and even the capture of Hussein himself.
Will the death of Zarqawi slow the violent resistance in Iraq? No. Will
the death of Zarqawi bring improvement n the electricity, water and
medical infrastructure in Iraq? No. Will the death of Zarqawi bring
stability and security to the Iraqi people? No. But is the death of
Zarqawi a perfect distraction from the Haditha Massacre, total failure
of the US occupation of Iraq, and the ongoing US military assault on the
city of Ramadi? Absolutely. And his death conveniently distracts the
corporate media from reporting that while the Prime Minister of Iraq
appointed most of his cabinet last weekend, the position of Vice
President Abel Abdul Mahdi, which had been set over a month ago, was the
re-appointment of one of the most aggressive supporters of the economic
agenda of the Bush administration in Iraq. An agenda which includes the
implementation of corporate globalization of Iraq's laws and far, far
greater US corporate control of Iraq's oil supply.


Perhaps the most interesting propaganda campaign we have seen in
connection with the Haditha Massacre was a massive and well-coordinated
effort on the part of FOX news and the right wing bloggers to discredit
any allegations of war crimes simultaneously running down the entire
"left wing" Internet. This campaign came in the form of fraudulent video
testimony from Jesse MacBeth. In this video "testimony" Jesse MacBeth
claims to have been a soldier in Iraq and to have committed a variety of
horrendous war crimes. The video barely made a stir on the web since
people questioned its validity within hours of its release. Yet, on May
24, 2006, mere days after the video's first appearance on the web, FOX
news spun fabrications about the video
calling it an "anti-war video" and claiming "that thing posted on the
Internet [was] the #2 most cicked-on blog on the Internet in the last
few weeks." #2 most clicked-on blog? One should question where FOX news
had been able to obtain data on the most popular blogs - unless Dick
Cheney's news favorite is even closer with the NSA than some might
suspect. The data comparing traffic to various web sites certainly is
not available to FOX to make such a claim. But the claim was false
anyway. Jesse MacBeth never had a blog. The video was posted on a small,
low bandwidth web site that could never have handled anywhere near the
kind of traffic required for the #2 blog. In fact, three days before
FOX's show, the web site publicly registered just over 1,500 hits -
total - and the video wasn't available because the site couldn't meet
even that meager demand. At 5 pm pst, two days before FOX's wild
promotion of the MacBeth video, a Google search on Jessie MacBeth
revealed only two obscure references to the video at all. The video was
in fact downright difficult to find anywhere on the web that day, let
alone! the "last few weeks" before FOX's broadcast. FOX's deceptive
promotion of this video and concurrent discrediting was deliberate
propaganda to pre-empt any future or existing claims of war crimes, such
as the Haditha Massacre, as well as an attempt to dismiss the entire
left wing blogosphere and the "anti-war" movement. By far the greatest
promoters of the MacBeth video were FOX news and the right-wing bloggers.


When an issue becomes too large and too damaging to control effectively,
savvy PR professionals work to focus the public's attention on a single
topic within the larger issue. The public thereby loses its view of the
forest - the more damaging and larger issue - for the single tree of a
selective topic or event related to the issue. This single topic needs
to be controversial enough to capture a large audience, but sufficiently
containable so that the particulars remain debatable and do not spiral
out of control. We have seen this pattern of PR repeated over and over
in the war. Examples include endless debates about the 500 prisoners
illegally held in Guantanamo Bay, when the reality of the larger issue
involves over 14,000 Iraqis detained without trail in both disclosed and
undisclosed Iraqi prisons, as well as countless people held in secret US
detention chambers in Eastern Europe. Another instance is the torture
"scandal" at Abu Ghraib, where public attention was focused on sexual
humiliation and inane ebates over the uses of dogs or water-boarding,
when in fact there exists documentation of torture much more violent,
systematic and widespread at US hands.

The Haditha Massacre is becoming the Spotlight event in the much broader
and more volatile issue of US War crimes in Iraq. Haditha is by no
stretch of the imagination an isolated incident. Journalists should work
to broaden the reporting of Haditha to include a discussion of the much
broader issue of International Law and War Crimes. This is, after all, a
war where US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales described the Geneva
conventions as "quaint," chemical weapons were used on a civilian
population in Fallujah, violent torture continues at the hands of the US
or its proxies, arbitrary detentions of Iraqis continue in violation of
international law, hospitals have been intentionally destroyed and
occupied, cluster bombs and flechettes have been deployed on dense
civilian habitations, civilians are being killed daily, and journalists
have been intentionally targeted by US troops. If we lose the forest for
the trees on the issue of the Haditha Massacre, we risk participation in
US propaganda.


Parallels are being drawn between what happened in Haditha on November
19, 2005, and the 1968 massacre in My Lai during the Vietnam War, in
which US forces ruthlessly slaughtered 500 unarmed women, men and
children in a small village. The most direct parallels will probably
involve what happens legally to those chosen by the internal military
investigation to take the blame for the event in Haditha. In the case of
My Lai, a lengthy internal investigation was launched, and followed by a
court-martial. Despite the massively brutal nature of the massacre, the
cover-up, and the many people involved, in the end, one man, Lt. William
Calley, spent roughly 3 years under house arrest.

As we see the media spotlight on the Haditha Massacre, we can expect to
see damage control measures through inventing scapegoats as was done in
My Lai and Abu Ghraib. As in the Abu Ghraib torture media blitz, the
military will not concern itself with loyalty for the troops that put
their lives on the line daily. The military will readily sacrifice its
Charles Graners and Sabrina Harmans while its superiors dodge and evade
responsibility and the incident is made to look isolated. Haditha will
be erroneously presented as the crime of a few "bad apples." With the
massive cover-up by military superiors, countless other war crimes
occurring in Iraq, and a US media landscape that has assisted in the
cover-up, journalists need to do more than produce propaganda of the
various trials and legal minutiae of the scapegoats identified to pay
for the Haditha massacre. There are much bigger stories that await
telling if the offered PR bait can be rejected.

*Conclusion: Is the US Corporate Media Complicit in War Crimes?*

According to principles set during the Nuremburg Trials and the UNESCO
Charter, the primary responsibility of journalists during a time of war
is not to incite the public to violence. In the case of the Haditha
Massacre cover-up, we need to ask: Is the US Corporate Media complicit
in the cover-up of this War Crime? By helping to cover up countless
events like the Haditha Massacre, is the US Corporate Media inciting the
public to violence by distorting the truth about the war in Iraq?

Already, stories from the US Media and "journalists" like Judith Miller
who promoted the war with fabrications have failed the test of
journalistic responsibility set by the Nuremburg Trials and the UNESCO
Charter. But the US corporate media seems extremely resistant to
responsible reform. How can the New York Times be satisfied publishing
an unverified official account of what happened in Haditha presented by
a military that has been caught in countless lies, such as the Pat
Tillman fabrication and the invented Jessica Lynch "rescue?" Is the US
corporate media prepared to challenge these government propaganda
deceptions? Or are they going to remain engaged in aiding and abetting
the war crimes of the US military and its commander in chief?
(c)2004, 2005 Dahr Jamail.


Post a Comment

<< Home