The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Has Morley Safer Ever Told John Miller This Story?: 'Look, If You Think Any American Official Is Going to Tell You the Truth, Then You're Stupid'

Everyone who watched the 60 Minutes segment on the NSA should follow it up with this story involving Morley Safer—who, at 82 years old, is still a correspondent at 60 Minutes.

In August, 1965 Safer appeared in what became one of most famous TV segments of the Vietnam War, showing U.S. troops setting fire to all the huts in a Vietnamese village with Zippo lighters and flamethrowers.

A year later in 1966, Safer wrote an article about what he’d seen first hand during a visit to Vietnam by Arthur Sylvester, then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (i.e., the head of Pentagon PR). Sylvester met at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon with reporters for U.S. news outlets:

There was general opening banter, which Sylvester quickly brushed aside. He seemed anxious to take a stand—to say something that would jar us. He said:

"I can’t understand how you fellows can write what you do while American boys are dying out here," he began. Then he went on to the effect that American correspondents had a patriotic duty to disseminate only information that made the United States look good.

A network television correspondent said, “Surely, Arthur, you don’t expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government.”

"That’s exactly what I expect," came the reply.

An agency man raised the problem that had preoccupied Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Barry Zorthian—about the credibility of American officials. Responded the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

"Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that?—stupid."

One of the most respected of all the newsmen in Vietnam—a veteran of World War II, the Indochina War and Korea—suggested that Sylvester was being deliberately provocative. Sylvester replied:

"Look, I don’t even have to talk to you people. I know how to deal with you through your editors and publishers back in the States."

At this point, the Hon. Arthur Sylvester put his thumbs in his ears, bulged his eyes, stuck out his tongue and wiggled his fingers.

[continue]

Cable News Far More Hawkish On Syria Than The Public

Sometimes we’re offered perfect examples of what some refer to as “Manufacturing Consent”:

A Pew study on Monday attracted attention for its assertion that Al Jazeera America, which promised a different take on the world than its cable news counterparts, mostly mirrored their approach when it came to the debate over Syria. But an equally interesting portion of the study found that all of the cable news channels were markedly more hawkish in their coverage than the public as a whole.

Poll after poll after poll has found that a large majority of Americans opposed a strike on Syria.

But Pew found that, “in the week studied, the overall percentage of cable stories conveying a message that America should get involved (47% ) solidly outnumbered stories with messages counseling against a strike (27%).”

The breakdowns are striking. For Al Jazeera, pro-strike messages outnumbered anti-strike ones by 43-24%. On CNN, it was 45-23. On Fox News, it was 45-20.

MSNBC, Pew found, had by far the most pro-strike sentiment, with a whopping 64%. But the network also had far more messages of opposition (39%) than its counterparts.

Even so, Americans tuning in to their news networks saw a debate that was far more skewed in favor of the pro-strike view than the debate happening off-screen.

Manufacturing Consent on Syria

Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky gained much notoriety from their seminal book, Manufacturing Consent, more than two decades ago. The central thesis of that book – that political and media elites construct propaganda narratives in order to build support for U.S. foreign policy – remains as relevant today as ever. Obama’s proposed intervention in Syria is a case in point. Public support for military action remains quite low – ranging from between one-quarter to one-third of Americans according to recent polls. That’s likely to change in coming weeks to months as the administration ramps up its pro-intervention rhetoric, and as political elites, reporters, and media pundits uncritically repeat and embrace his messages.

The 2011 intervention in Libya provides a template for the administration’s plan: defend an intervention via humanitarian rhetoric that lambastes a dictator for serious human rights abuses; deliver a number of public speeches in an effort to build support for war; and once troops begin to enter harm’s way, sit back and enjoy increased support as Americans “rally around the flag” in support of the conflict. This formula was enough to gain support for intervention from between 50 to 60 percent of Americans in the case of Libya, and is likely to do the same in Syria once Congress goes along.

The process has already begun. A senate committee already voted 10-7 to grant authorization for force, and a floor resolution is likely to follow in this Democratic controlled chamber. The Obama administration has largely controlled the narrative on Syria over the last year and a half, stressing that the United States is seriously concerned with Assad’s abuses and use of chemical weapons against rebels and civilians. A September survey from the Pew Research Center finds that by a factor of more than two-to-one, Americans conclude that, from what they have “read and heard,” that “there is clear evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians.” The beleaguered peoples of Syria, Obama contends, need a helping hand from the United States, which is said to be unconditionally concerned with protecting the safety and security of those targeted by Weapons of Mass Destruction. The claim that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against its people has been largely accepted in political and media discourse, despite the fact that the administration has yet to present any concrete evidence. The failure to present evidence presents a particular problem considering claims appearing in news reports that rebel groups may be guilty of using chemical weapons. The Syrian government may very well have used these weapons, and this would probably surprise few people, but the key point here is that the administration has done nothing to present that case before announcing its campaign for war. [++]

When one hears that policy-makers want not just intelligence on a particular subject but intelligence that supports a particular conclusion about that subject, antennae ought to go up. A “quest” for conclusion-bolstering material is fundamentally different from an open-minded use of intelligence to inform policy decisions yet to be made. It is instead a matter of making a public (and Congressional) case to support a decision already made. Paul Pillar

'[O]bjectivity' in Washington journalism does not mean being free of opinions; it means the opposite: dutifully echoing the official opinions and subjective mindset of those in political power. In the eyes of official Washington and its media mavens, spouting opinions is not a sin. The sin is spouting opinions that deviate from the ones expressed by and which serve the interests of those in power. Michael Hayden, Bob Schieffer and the media’s reverence of national security officials | Glenn Greenwald

[T]he new tactic allows terrorists to dip ordinary clothing into the liquid to make the clothes themselves into explosives once dry. “It’s ingenious,” one of the officials said. … In addition to the new liquid bomb, a U.S. official said American spy agencies are concerned the attack could use what some call “Frankenbombers,” suicide bombers who could carry an improvised explosive device sewn into their body cavity.

Al Qaeda Threat: Officials Fear ‘Ingenious’ Liquid Explosive

Wherein ABC dips into rejected “24” scripts to give some teeth to the new super scary global Terrorist™ threat.

It is best to assume that presidents and members of congress are lying when they make justifications for waging war. The media must also be added to the liars’ list. They have little interest in giving us easily provable facts when there is favor in need of currying. History will judge not only our political leaders harshly, but every institution which aided and abetted them. The corporate media ought to be placed at the top of that ignominious list. Margaret Kimberly, Obama’s Syrian Press Pass

The press merely repeat what the president says and call it journalism. The public are left in the dark and in the absence of real reporting are forced to read tea leaves to figure out what is really happening. Margaret Kimberly, Obama’s Syrian Press Pass

If Obama and his NATO cohorts are all bellowing loudly that “Assad must go” they think they have him on the verge of defeat. If they propose a peace conference they have acknowledged that Assad’s forces are winning. If they give mixed messages about a peace conference and then claim Assad is using chemical weapons and also announce they are arming the rebels they are in full panic mode because their plans for easy conquest have gone awry.

The Obama administration, and any other presidential administration, ought to be afraid to tell such lies to the public. They should fear that their claims will be thoroughly examined and all facts will be exposed. But like his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama has no reason to feel any such discomfort.

A quick perusal of the major corporate media will show that the very premise of American intervention in Syria or anywhere else is accepted without question. Even worse, America’s role in fomenting war is rarely pointed out. There would be no carnage in Syria absent the machinations of the U.S. and its NATO allies. There are Syrians who want changes in their government, but their wishes alone wouldn’t bring about a civil war. Anyone aware of this important point certainly hasn’t relied upon the major broadcasters or newspapers for information.

The average American believes that the intervention is humanitarian in nature because the government and the corporate media have told them so. News talk shows debate whether the United States should choose sides without mentioning that the entire conflagration is the result of American plans to remake the region into a huge vassal state.

“Assad must go” is the mantra but no one on Meet the Press, the Newshour, MSNBC or the New York Times asks why this is so and why an American president has any right to decide the fate of millions of people. Once again Americans are kept in a state of disinformation, unaware that their government is responsible for the deaths of thousands even as it claims humanitarian motives.

War Crimes as Policy | Douglas Valentine and Nicolas J.S. Davies

In February the Guardian and BBC Arabic unveiled a documentary exploring the role of retired Colonel James Steele in the recruitment, training and initial deployments of the CIA advised and funded Special Police Commandos in Iraq.

The documentary tells how the Commandos tortured and murdered tens of thousands of Iraqi men and boys. But the Commandos were only one of America’s many weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Along with US military forces – which murdered indiscriminately – and various CIA funded death squads – which murdered selectively – and the CIA’s rampaging palace guard – the 5,000 man strong Iraq Special Operations Forces – the Commandos were part of a genocidal campaign that killed about 10% of the Sunni Arabs of Iraq by 2008, and drove about half of all Sunnis from their homes.

Including economic sanctions, and a 50 year history of sabotage and subversion, America and its Iraqi collaborators visited far more death and destruction on Iraq than Saddam Hussein and his regime.

For the last few weeks, American pundits have been cataloguing the horrors. They tell how the Bush and Obama regimes, united in the unstated policy of war crimes, probably murdered more than a million Iraqis, displaced around five million, and imprisoned and tortured hundreds of thousands without trial.

A few have further explained that the dictatorial administrative detention laws, torture, and executions that characterize the occupation are still in place under Prime Minister Maliki. The prime minister’s office, notably, is where the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau is currently ensconced.

All of this meets the definition of genocide in the Genocide Convention, and violates multiple articles of the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee protection to civilians in time of war. But the responsible Americans have gone unpunished for their war crimes, not least of which was falsifying intelligence about Iraq’s non-existent weapon of mass destruction as a pretext for the invasion. British legal advisors repeatedly warned their government that invading Iraq would be a crime of aggression, which they called “one of the most serious offenses under international law.”

For anyone familiar with the CIA, this was predictable. But the US Government, through secrecy and censorship, destroyed much of the hard evidence of its war crimes, making it harder to prove. And the media is content to revise history and focus public attention on front men like Steele, rather than the institutions – in particular the CIA – for whom they work.

History, however, provides contextual evidence that what happened in Iraq amounts to a policy of carefully planned war crimes.

[…] Another problem, apart from historical amnesia, is that each war crime is viewed as an isolated incident, and when the dots are connected, the focus is on some shadowy character like Steele. The Guardian made an attempt to connect Steele to Petraeus and Rumsfeld, which again, is commendable. But the fact is that the entire National Security State has been designed and staffed with right-wing ideologues who support the unstated US policy of war crimes for profit.

We know who these security ideologues are. The problem is, they regularly have lunch with the reporters we trust to nail them to the wall. [READ]

Syria And Sarin Gas: US Claims Have A Very Familiar Ring | Robert Fisk

Is there any way of escaping the theatre of chemical weapons? First, Israeli “military intelligence” says that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used/have probably used/might have used/could use chemical weapons. Then Chuck Hagel, the US Defence Secretary, pops up in Israel to promise even more firepower for Israel’s over-armed military – avoiding any mention of Israel’s more than 200 nuclear warheads – and then imbibing all the Israeli “intelligence” on Syria’s use/probable use/possible use of chemical weapons.

Then good ol’ Chuck returns to Washington and tells the world that “this is serious business. We need all the facts.” The White House tells Congress that US intelligence agencies, presumably the same as Israeli intelligence agencies since the two usually waffle in tandem, have “varying degrees of confidence” in the assessment. But Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee – she who managed to defend Israel’s actions in 1996 after it massacred 105 civilians, mostly children, at Qana in Lebanon – announces of Syria that “it is clear that red lines have been crossed and action must be taken to prevent larger-scale use”. And the oldest of current White House clichés – hitherto used exclusively on Iran’s probable/possible development of nuclear weapons – is then deployed: “All options are on the table.”

In any normal society the red lights would now be flashing, especially in the world’s newsrooms. But no. We scribes remind the world that Obama said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “game changer” – at least Americans admit it is a game – and our reports confirm what no one has actually confirmed. Chemical arms used. In two Canadian TV studios, I am approached by producers brandishing the same headline. I tell them that on air I shall trash the “evidence” – and suddenly the story is deleted from both programmes. Not because they don’t want to use it – they will later – but because they don’t want anyone suggesting it might be a load of old cobblers.

CNN has no such inhibitions. Their reporter in Amman is asked what is known about the use of chemical weapons by Syria and replies: “Not as much as the world would want to know … the psyche of the Assad regime ….” But has anyone tried? Or simply asked an obvious question, posed to me by a Syrian intelligence man in Damascus last week: if Syria can cause infinitely worse damage with its MiG bombers (which it does) why would it want to use chemicals? And since both the regime and its enemies have accused each other of using such weapons, why isn’t Chuck as fearful of the rebels as he is of the Assad dictatorship?

It all comes back to that most infantile cliché of all: that the US and Israel fear Assad’s chemical weapons “falling into the wrong hands”. They are frightened, in other words, that these chemicals might end up in the armoury of the very same rebels, especially the Islamists, that Washington, London, Paris, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting. And if these are the “wrong hands”, then presumably the weapons in Assad’s armoury are in the “right hands”. That was the case with Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons – until he used them against the Kurds.

Now we know that there have been three specific incidents in which sarin gas has supposedly been used in Syria: in Aleppo, where both sides accused each other (the hospital videos in fact came from Syrian state TV); in Homs, apparently on a very small scale; and in the outskirts of Damascus. And, although the White House appears to have missed this, three Syrian child refugees were brought to hospital in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli with deep and painful burns on their bodies.

But now for a few problems. Phosphorus shells can inflict deep burns, and perhaps cause birth defects. But the Americans do not suggest that the Syrian military might have used phosphorus (which is indeed a chemical); after all, American troops used the very same weapon in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where there is indeed now an explosion of birth defects. I suppose our hatred of the Assad regime might better be reflected by horror at reports of the torture by Syrian secret policemen of the regime’s detainees. But there’s a problem here, too: only 10 years ago, the US was “renditioning” innocent men, including a Canadian citizen, to Damascus to be interrogated and tortured by the very same secret policemen. And if we mention Saddam’s chemical weapons, there’s another glitch: because the components of these vile weapons were manufactured by a factory in New Jersey and sent to Baghdad by the US.

That is not the story in our newsrooms, of course. Walk into a TV studio and they’re all reading newspapers. Walk into a newspaper office and they’re all watching television. It’s osmotic. And the headlines are all the same: Syria uses chemical weapons. That’s how the theatre works.

Washington fabricates chemical weapons pretext for war against Syria | Bill Van Auken

Behind the sudden turn to promoting the chemical weapons pretext for direct military intervention is the growing frustration of the US and its European allies over the failure of their proxy forces in Syria to make any headway in overthrowing the Assad regime.

This is in large measure because the Syrian government retains a popular base and, even among those who detest the regime, many hate and fear even more the Islamist elements, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Al Qaeda, which are seeking to replace it.

The US and its allies are themselves increasingly wary about the potential “blowback” from the sectarian civil war that they have promoted. The governments in Britain and Germany as well as the European Union have all made statements in the last week warning of the dangers posed by hundreds of Islamists from their own countries going to Syria to join with Al Qaeda elements.

Behind the pretense that the cutthroats that rule the US and Europe are concerned about human rights and Syrian lives, the reality is that they are preparing bombings, the use of cruise missiles and Predator drones, as well as a potential ground invasion that will dramatically increase Syria’s death toll.

The motives underlying such a war have nothing to do with qualms about chemical weapons, but rather concern definite geostrategic interests.

Fox News contributor Judith Miller wrote a highly speculative Wall Street Journal op-ed that claimed New York City police surveillance practices ‘may well have… prevented’ the Boston bombing, ignoring that the constitutionality of these programs is currently being challenged in court and their efficacy is in question.

WSJ Op-Ed Pushes Controversial NYPD Surveillance Of American Muslims

Unmentioned in her op-ed is that honest journalism on her part “may well have … prevented” the deaths of a million Iraqis. Instead, she gleefully disseminated whatever the Bush administration wanted her to.

That people like Miller are even allowed a platform anymore is astonishing.

Check out AP’s report on the (in)efficacy of the NYPD surveillance program here.

Times Square Targeted By Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects, FBI Says

Good to know that speculation won’t be a factor in this case:

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, told interrogators that he and his older brother, Tamerlan, intended to set off explosives in Manhattan, according to unnamed law enforcement officials who spoke to Reuters and NBC News.

This was pre-Miranda, drugged on painkillers, at the hands of an FBI “special interrogation team”, with no legal counsel, but those details are unimportant. Nor is the detail that Tsarnaev hasn’t said anything since: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev confessed before Miranda rights, then fell silent.

Whether the NYC plot is true doesn’t matter though, really. Kelly and Bloomberg just want their cameras and drones.