Friday, January 28, 2005

The Day the Media Died

If any of you watched Nightline last night, or any of several nights of late, you must surely realize by now that what you see is propaganda, not discussion. Last night their errors were particularly egregious. Nightline purported to present a "discussion" on the war in Iraq, giving the appearance of presenting "both" sides because there were two people on one side of him saying we were right to have gone in and two people on the other side who said we went under false pretenses (to find Weapons of Mass Destruction). And the audience members were allowed to speak as well. So what was wrong with this picture? The balance of questions and answers came only from the pro-war side. Very little time was given to the we-were-so-wrong side.

This writeup, posted on Daily Kos, describes some of what we, the TV audience, could not see. It's from a participant in the Town Hall event.

I have to tell you, from personal experience, you cannot really grock the true dishonesty of the media until you experience it firsthand. I've been at events that I've later seen grossly misrepresented in the press. I've researched subjects that have then received astonishingly dishonest treatments in the media. I've been interviewed, only to have words quoted back and attributed to me that I didn't actually say. So I have no trouble believing the report linked above.

When I started watching Nightline, my ever hopeful heart leapt at the notion that maybe the arguments for how wrong we were would finally get an honest hearing. Before several commercial breaks, Ted Koppel said that after the break, we'd hear from Joe Wilson, the man who originally broke the plan and reported that hey, there are no WMD in Iraq. But each time, after the break, save the last time, the pro-war team would get the microphone. I realized I was watching a staged propaganda event, designed to look like a 'fair and balanced' report but with the right plants in the audience given the bulk of the time. Please take a moment to read the account at this link. It's important to know what the producers decided we should not see or hear.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Is "Nemesis" a Black Book?

Since this article was forwarded to me as “new evidence in the RFK assassination,” I feel compelled to speak.

I beg forgiveness in advance. I would love to lay out the evidence in scholarly detail to support all I want to say in great detail, and might yet at some future date. But frankly, the ridiculously absurd, ill-supported theory in Peter Evans’ book Nemesis doesn’t deserve it.

I had only to hear the premise to know something was amiss. Onassis had ordered Bobby Kennedy killed? I burst out laughing the first time this was proposed to me, several years ago, by a lawyer in Indiana who claimed “secret knowledge” that Onassis was behind RFK’s assassination. (His scenario, however, was very different from the one put forth in Evans’ book.) When I laughed at this, he got angry and actually threatened me, saying “the Mob will get you” — words to that effect. You heard me right. The Mob. So why would “the Mob” want to “get me” if I didn’t believe some wildass story about Onassis having killed RFK?

I never believed for a second that the people who would “get” me, if anyone, would be from the Mob. But I did believe I was witnessing the birth of a new disinformation campaign, and mentioned it to a few people at the time. Someone was trying to pin the RFK case on Ari Onassis. Now I know who that “someone” is.

You see, the funny thing about this is that the attack laid out in Nemesis, that Onassis ordered the killing of Bobby Kennedy, parallels an earlier CIA disinformation campaign against Onassis.

In 1954, the CIA hired Robert Maheu, whom it would later hire to design Castro assassination plots, to perform a character assassination plot against Ari Onassis. Why? Because Onassis controlled the shipping of Arabian oil, an extremely lucrative market. The CIA was upset because both money and valuable intelligence were being lost to Onassis. According to the CIA’s Inspector General Report on Plots to Assassinate Castro:

“In the 1954-55 time period Maheu was hired by the Greek shipping magnate, Niarchos, to help in a financial tussle Niarchos was having with another Greek shipping figure, Onassis, who had managed to negotiate a pact with King Saud under which Onassis would control 90% of all Saudi Arabian oil shipments. British, American, and German shipping interests opposed Onassis' near monopoly, and the US and UK governments supported Niarchos in his fight to have the agreement canceled. Maheu is believed to have worked at top levels in both the British and American governments, reportedly meeting at least once with Vice President Nixon. Maheu's operations were financed by Niarchos, but CIA became involved in supporting them by request of the Department of State. Agency communications and pouch facilities were made available to Maheu, and he was given help in developing a black propaganda campaign against Onassis. Niarchos, with Maheu's help, won his scrap with Onassis.”

Would it surprise you to learn, then, that this same Robert Maheu was a chief source for author Peter Evans? Would it surprise you to learn that Evans’ other sources included CIA mastermind and Dulles/Helms/Angleton confidante Miles Copeland, as well as the CIA’s best man in Greece, Alfred Ulmer? Evans thanks these three for giving him the introductions and leads to the others in the story.

So what is Evans’ evidence that Onassis ordered Bobby killed? Granted, I’m skimming - but as best I can make it out, a woman said Ari told her he paid to have Bobby killed. THAT’S IT! I’m not kidding!! And 1) we have no way to know if the woman is telling the truth, and 2) even if she has been honest, we have no way of knowing whether she might have misinterpreted what Onassis said. Maybe he made the comment as a joke. We don’t have enough context to accurately assess the seriousness of this comment, if it was even made.

In addition, Evans tries to link Ari to an Arab terrorist who once made a comment about killing an American official. Evans takes the words of a couple of people and strings together incidents that could have had any number of other explanations and that’s his evidence. He makes a big deal of the fact that this terrorist visited William Bryan, the doctor who probably hypnotized Sirhan. But that’s his evidence - the comment and the visit - that this man was directly involved in the assassination plot. Again, I’m not kidding!

Most of his introductions for the sources in the book came, according to Evans’ own acknowledgements, from either proven CIA sources (Maheu, Copeland, and Ulmer) or likely CIA sources such as his much-touted Yannis Georgakis, the prominent Greek man who was the actual instigator for this book. See, Evans had already written a biography of Ari Onassis. Guess what? None of this stuff came up! It took Georgakis to instill curiosity by promising “the rest of the story.” Georgakis was a stellar student in Greece during the years prior to WWII - admitted to law school at the age of 15 and graduating at the age of 20. He studied in Germany where he obtained a doctorate in criminal law, and then returned to Greece at the start of WWII. The CIA was heavily ensconced in Greek politics by the end of WWII as Greece was seen as one of the holdouts keeping the Iron Curtain at bay. It’s not stretching to imagine that such a talented, high-profile individual would be a top recruitment target for the Agency.

Evans’ book simply lays out a theory, and an ill-documented, ill-supported one at that. So just for fun, let’s compare that to my theory.

I propose that the CIA killed Bobby. I propose that they did this because he was pursuing their involvement in the killing of his brother. I propose they knew they would be toast if Bobby ascended to the office of the President. I believe they used Maheu to do this.

I believe that Maheu, concerned perhaps by the growing interest in the RFK assassination, has been looking for an alternate patsy and pulled out his old playbook the CIA gave him and ran it one last time against his archnemesis Onassis.

And let’s look at my evidence.

Maheu had been the CIA’s point man planning the Castro assassination plots. Maheu was directly implicated by Hoover, if John Meier, who talked to Hoover personally, is to be believed. Hoover told Meier, so Meier told me, that “We know this [the Robert Kennedy assassination] was a Maheu operation. But I’m powerless against the CIA” - a comment made believable by the fact that James Angleton had a photo of Hoover with his gay lover Clyde Tolson in a compromising position, and Angleton had provably used that photo to force Hoover’s hand in the case of that other Kennedy assassination, that of President John Kennedy. (See my Angleton articles in The Assassinations for that story.)

After the assassination of RFK, Maheu, for Howard Hughes, hired the cream of the crop of the Kennedy operatives so they would be on his payroll. That’s a nice thing to do - give a job to the folks who might otherwise be interested in finding out what your involvement might have been. It’s always hard to bite the hand that feeds, as any mainstream journalist knows.

Maheu had strong ties to the LAPD, the agency most responsible for the cover-up of the facts proving conspiracy in the assassination of RFK. Maheu had even helped produce a porno film with members of the LAPD to discredit the CIA target and Indonesian leader Sukarno.

Johnny Roselli, Maheu’s close associate, the man who trained Maheu’s would-be assassins for the Castro plots, was involved in a scandal that compromised Grant Cooper, the lawyer who would soon represent Sirhan Sirhan. Cooper was facing losing his license to practice law because some Grand Jury transcripts, stolen by Roselli, ended up on his desk in court. (Cooper was representing an associate of Roselli’s when both were on trial in the Friar’s Club card cheating scandal). Cooper miraculously, amid his own troubles, volunteers to help Sirhan, and equally miraculously, his charges are reduced, payable by a small fine.

I believe Maheu had Roselli compromise Cooper so that Sirhan’s case would never be more than a show trial. It worked. When the LAPD admittedly could not prove the bullets they had in evidence actually came from Sirhan’s gun, Cooper told the Judge in chambers, that’s okay - I’ll stipulate to wherever the cops say the bullets came from. I believe Cooper did this to protect some deal he had made re the sinking of Sirhan’s defense. I mean, what lawyer has his client read from his notebook, “RFK must die, RFK must die” as Cooper had Sirhan do on the stand? Not a lawyer who was trying to help his client. At least, that’s my theory.

See, the thing with my theory is, it’s based primarily on a well-documented record. Not simple assertions by players you’ve never met. Not by statements from spooks told in whispers in dark restaurants. Actual documents. LAPD investigative files. Court records. Stuff like that.

Now you can take your pick. Or make up a theory of your own! Heck, anyone can play this game. But given a choice, I’d rather follow a trail of documentable evidence, rather than a trail laid out by people who lie for a living.

Maybe that’s just me. But I hope not.

I hope that’s you, too.

Lisa Pease

Friday, January 14, 2005

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King

On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a watershed speech, in which, for the first time, he spoke out against the war in Vietnam. Many of his followers encouraged him to continue his focus on civil rights, but the more King learned, the more the immorality of our actions in Vietnam ate at his heart. I want to share with you a particularly relevant part of that speech, which could as easily have been directed at our war in present-day Iraq:

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. [applause]

Exactly one year to the day after he gave this speech, King was assassinated on his hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.

When people of conscience speak out against crimes of state, they put their lives on the line. I say that not to dissuade any of us from doing so, but to remind people that those who speak out need all the love and support (financial and emotional) that each of us has to shower upon them. They put their lives at risk to make the world a better place. We should honor them in life and defend their honor when they are gone. What does it matter if they were not perfect human beings? Whom of us can claim that mantle?

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s family, from Coretta and Martin III to Dexter and the others, have never failed to continue to support the vision so eloquently described by Dr. King. You can return support in kind by paying your respects and, if you can, opening your pocketbooks, to The King Center, a center built by the family and dedicated to carrying on the work of the late Dr. King. I get no commission. I simply know that if we don't pay for what we value, others will pay to destroy what we value.

On Monday, Martin Luther King day, I plan to spend some time reviewing this man's life and the tragic circumstances surrounding his most untimely death.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Hotel Rwanda - addendum

I wanted to give a special thanks to Creative Screenwriting Magazine, which provided the screening I wrote about earlier FOR FREE to people on their e-mail list. The Q&A was moderated by Jeff Goldsmith, who did an excellent job at this and other screenings I've attended. By the way, if you're interested in Screenwriting, that's an excellent magazine to read.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

I just returned from a special screening of Hotel Rwanda. It was special not just because the writer was there, a talented young documentarian named Keir Pearson. And not just because co-writer and director Terry George, who previously wrote “In the Name of the Father,” among several other notable works, was there. What made this screening special was the film’s star, and I’m not talking about Don Cheadle, despite his absolutely brilliant performance.

What made this so special was the presence of the hero on which the film is based, Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero who saved over a thousand lives as the hotel manager of Hotel Mille Collines, a Belgian-owned resort in Kigali, Rwanda.

The film itself is an incredible story of a man whose basic human decency and efficiency as an excellent manager enabled him to do something all of Western “civilization” (and the quotes are well-deserved) could not - save the lives of Rwandans even as others were trying to divide them into Hutus and Tutsis. To him, as he explained after the film, there was no difference. They are all one people. And indeed they were, until the Belgians came in and used a divide and conquer strategy to separate and elevate the richer, lighter-skinned people, which they named Tutsis, from the darker, smaller people they called Hutus. But in reality of course, the split was always artificial.

Rusesabagina spoke simply yet eloquently when asked how he found the “courage” to do what he did, housing in his abandoned hotel not only the threatened Tutsis but many moderate Hutus who were also threatened with slaughter. He said it wasn’t a matter of courage - he was too busy to be afraid. But I saw something else. Here was a man to whom decency was so innate, so integral, that he could not fathom why others did not share that and act as he did. He said he was a different man since those events in that his eyes were opened. Up until then, he had been somewhat of a happy-go-lucky guy who enjoyed having a drink and hobnobbing with people from all parts of society. But this became a defining moment, when people he had formerly considered friends would not condemn the butchery happening before his eyes. He said it wasn’t so much that he changed, but that others changed and he remained the same as he had always been.

Key to the change was a potent hate-radio station which broadcast messages telling the Hutus to rise up and kill the Tutsis. It was a sophisticated operation, to be sure, in that the people of Rwanda were too poor to buy newspapers. They listened instead to the cheapest little hand-held transistor radios, to the single station, and got their news from that. When you see the film, and you must see this film, you’ll realize the radio station is a major player in the events that unfold.

Director Terry George spoke to that in the Q&A that followed the screening, saying there was talk at one point of bombing the station, since it was to a large degree the single biggest factor in the genocide. But some State Department lawyer said this could be looked upon as a freedom of the press issue, and so the station was left to incite people not simply to violence, but to genocide to the tune of nearly a million people in 100 days.

The film tells two very important stories. One is the story of what one capable, decent person can do. He simply worked every angle, plied every bribe, worked every contact, and did all anyone could possibly due to save all the people who had come to him for shelter.

The second story, however, is far more damning. It is the story of how the white races of the world pulled out, looked away, and by their silence condoned the horrible slaughter.

Paul asked that we see the message in the film, and that those who see the film become messengers of that message. Terry George and Paul both reminded us that this is all happening again, in Darfour. Terry said that the tsunami’s second wave is washing over Africa now, because as the media and charities turn all eyes to the tragedy in the Indian ocean by a natural disaster, the preventable, human disaster occurring in the Sudan, the Congo, and other places in Africa continues.

The film itself is entirely interesting, engaging, at moments humorous, and at moments heartbreaking. But it is also the inspiring tale of a simple, decent man just being himself and refusing to turn his back on the people who came to depend on him. He is not painted as larger than life, but rather, as the best any of us can be, if we only keep true to what we know, what we believe. The film made no reference to any religion, save a cross around Paul’s wife’s neck which plays a key part in the film, but not because of the religion represented. The message was clearly about the need to simply be human, to maintain compassion for others, to just do the right thing and not to act simply out of self-interest, but in the interests of as many as possible.

For those like myself who hate to see blood and gore, fear not. As horrible as this tale is, the horror is to a large degree suggested, rather than enacted, in the film. George talked about fighting the ratings board to get a PG rating, and how he had to remind them over and over that what they thought they saw is not really what they saw. The real horror lies in what actually happened, not in what appears on film.

This is a powerfully moving yet wholly inspirational film. I hope all will see it and remember. George said they took great pains to remain as true to history as possible, and that about 90% of what you see is exactly what happened. The parts that are ‘fictionalized’ are not the big scenes, but smaller scenes. One event really happened, but at a later time than shown in the timeframe of the film. Another event really happened, but happened to a different character than the one shown. So the reality of the film is very close to the truth. George talked about how he felt a responsibility to history since people read so little nowadays, and said, for Americans, it’s likely this film will be the most they ever learn about Rwanda and what happened there, and they realized from the start the importance of carrying that burden as honestly as possible.

After the film, I shook George’s hand, and went up to Paul and gave him a hug, and said something that didn’t come out quite as I wanted, but oh well. I said to him, through my tears, that I was thrilled that he had done what he did. He returned the hug, and I know he was moved as well. I wondered what it must be like, to have perhaps the high point and low point of his life coincide in this single film. I also wondered at the irony of his living in Brussels now, in the very country so responsible for the division that led to the genocide he had witnessed. Above all, I wonder what I now will do with this information, and what you will do when you too take in this film and take on the responsibility of being a witness to this tragic part of our recent past. I hope we will all take some positive action as a result of this film.