Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Are We Targeting Journalists Again?

What a bizarre story. A month ago, Iraqis took an unlikely hostage: Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena. They captured her simply because she was Italian, and they used her to plead their case to Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to withdraw the roughly 2,700 Italian troops from Iraq.

What makes her capture so ironic is that the Iraqi’s picked the wrong hostage. Sgrena was on their side. She had spoken out repeatedly against the war, and was currently working for the Communist publication Il Manifesto. She had refused to participate as an embedded journalist because she really wanted to get to the truth of the war, what was really happening to ordinary citizens on the ground. But, to her surprise, that made her an enemy of her captors as much as it made her an enemy to the forces behind the war. As she recounted a couple of days ago,
I wanted to tell about the bloodbath in Falluja through the refugees' tales. And that morning the refugees and some of their "leaders" didn't listen to me. I had in front of me the evidence of what the Iraqi society has become with the war and they threw their truth in my face: "We don't want anyone. Why don't you stay home? What such interview can be useful for?". The worst collateral damage, the war killing communication, was falling on me. On me, who had risked it all, challenging the Italian government that didn't want reporters gong to Iraq, and the Americans who don't want our work that gives witness to what that country has really turned into with the war, despite what they call elections.
What did she get for her pains? A month in Iraqi jail, and then being shot at by Americans upon her release.

Was she targeted in the shooting? Certainly, it appears the American version of the episode is not true. This Tehran Times piece raises serious questions:
"The Americans and Italians knew about (her) car coming," Pier Scolari said on leaving Rome's Celio military hospital where Sgrena is to undergo surgery following her return home. "They were 700 meters (yards) from the airport, which means that they had passed all checkpoints."

The shooting late Friday was witnessed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's office which was on the phone with one of the secret service agents, said Scolari.

"Then the U.S. military silenced the cell phones," he charges.

"Giuliana had information, and the U.S. military did not want her to survive," he added.
I have friends who just can’t fathom that American troops would target journalists. Why would we do that? It makes no sense, they tell me. But after a decade of research on cover-ups, I can tell you that journalists who dare to tell the truth about important misdeeds have always been targets, both physically and via character assassination. I don’t know what happened to Sgrena. Perhaps the real target was the Iraqi intelligence agent who was shepherding her to safety. But the possibility that Sgrena was the target would hardly be out of character.

In the course of this war, so many journalists have been killed that Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) had to ask, “Is Killing Part of Pentagon Press Policy?” FAIR recounted how an American tank fired on the Palestine Hotel on April 8, 2003, when it was well known that the hotel housed most of the non-embedded foreign press. The pentagon claimed the tank was firing back at combatants, but footage shot by a French TV station showed no activity in the area. According to FAIR's report:
Journalists who witnessed the attack unequivocally rejected Pentagon claims that the tank had been fired on from the hotel. "I never heard a single shot coming from any of the area around here, certainly not from the hotel," David Chater of British Sky TV told Reuters (4/8/03).”
Earlier that same day, the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera were hit in an airstrike. At the time, Al Jazeera had been airing graphic footage of the bloody victims of the Iraqi war. Such footage made America out to be the bad guys - bad idea, if you’re the Pentagon. FAIR’s report stated:
International journalists and press freedom groups condemned the U.S. attacks on the press corps in Baghdad. "We can only conclude that the U.S. Army deliberately and without warning targeted journalists," Reporters Without Borders declared (4/8/03). "We believe these attacks violate the Geneva Conventions," wrote the Committee to Protect Journalists in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (4/8/03), referring to the protection journalists receive under the laws of war. The attacks on journalists "look very much like murder," Robert Fisk of the London Independent reported (4/9/03).
It amazes me that the most prestigious award for investigative journalism is named after a journalist whose own murder has never been completely solved: George Polk. I. F. Stone called Polk “the first casualty of the Cold War.” Polk was reporting in Greece at the time the OSS was transitioning to become the CIA. He reported on the corruption of the American-backed Greek dictator and turned up bound, waterlogged, murdered. While a Communist was accused in a show trial of perpetrating the deed, Kati Marton in her excellent book The Polk Conspiracy showed that in fact it appeared American and British intelligence, in conjunction with the Greek authorities, were very involved in covering up the facts of his death, and were likely responsible for his murder.

Robert Parry realized during the Iran Contra hearings that the truth was not anything the mainstream media dared to tell. And of course, Gary Webb met a brick wall in the mainstream media when he tried to tell the truth about the crack cocaine connection. Kristina Borjesson, in her book Into the Buzzsaw, recounts several stories of newspeople who got chopped to bits by a system designed for maximum propaganda value, not for maximum truth. Robert Novak gets a pass for exposing CIA operative Valerie Plame - an action punishable by up to $50,000 under the law. Jeff “Hire Me For Gay Sex but SHUSH 'Cuz I’m a Right-Winger” Gannon gets to be part of the White House press corp. But Dan Rather loses his job for reporting on documents that could not be authenticated, despite the fact the story the documents purported to support has never been successfully denied - that Bush shirked his service in the National Guard.

The reason to control the press it to control the perception of events. The OSS (which later became the CIA) was sold to Roosevelt on the notion that propaganda was on the rise in Germany and the only way to survive was not to counter it, but rather, to do it at least as well, if not better. As George Orwell explained in his novel 1984: Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past. The best way to control the future is to control the presentation of recent history to fit the agenda.

Sgrena was not fitting the agenda. I don’t know if she was targeted. But it would sure fit a very old, familiar, and, for the powers that be, successful pattern. And what is conspiracy theory if not, first and foremost, pattern recognition?

I’m grateful for the Internet these days more than ever. I have met incredible people through this medium. I have learned incredible things. I can read first-hand accounts from Iraq (check out Riverbend and Free Iraq). I watch bloggers report on important stories at Daily Kos. I can even read about the future of the world, and marvel out how explicit and public the plan is, and wonder in frustration how no journalists of note in this country dare mention it. Are they so lazy? Ignorant? Or are they afraid they’ll be killed, literally or figuratively, for exposing the true agenda of the powers that be? I believe this is where I came in.


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