Credible Deception: The NY Times and the Sudan missile attack by Jared Israel (Written 8-28-98, revised 9-16-99, reposted 2-18-2001) Note: ‘Credible Deception’ was the first article written (in the summer of 1998) for what has become the Emperor’s Clothes Website. It analyzes the methods used to deceive the American people about the murderous U.S. bombing of a pill factory in Sudan in 1998. Because it exposes a number of common techniques used to misinform, it is helpful in seeing through government/media lies about other foreign policy adventures. Articles written for Emperor’s Clothes may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes without explicit permission, but please credit http://www.emperors-clothes.com and include this note. To use an article in a commercial publication, please first contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617 9161705. Thanks. ======================================= CREDIBLE DECEPTION by Jared Israel
Does the mass media report foreign affairs with relative accuracy? Or does it maintain a certain bias towards US government policy? One year ago, the US launched a missile attack on a factory in Sudan, in Africa. The government claimed that a) the factory made nerve gas and b) it was linked to Osama bin Laden, the Islamic Fundamentalist whom the US said was behind the bombing of two US embassies in Africa. We’re going to look at how the NY Times, that most respected of US newspapers, covered the factory bombing.
In our investigation, we’ll be hunting for five techniques of distortion: * SELF-EVIDENCE * BIAS BY POSITION * LABELS * SUGGESTIONS * OMISSIONS * MOCKING DISMISSAL As you read, keep in mind that we are creatures of language: words change our moods in an instant and we are devoted to stories, inclined to suspend disbelief, to trust the writer, accept his world. If a supposedly objective news story does not shout its bias – or if we have unknowingly accepted that bias as true – we tend to believe it.
Did the Times accurately report “All the news that’s fit to print” in covering the Sudan attack? Or did it lie? TECHNIQUE #1: SELF-EVIDENCE. Sometimes news articles assume US policy statements are true and treat such statements as matters of fact rather than political argument. I call this self-evidence, as in “We hold these truths to be self -evident.” On August 20, 1998, the Navy launched 75 Cruise missiles, blowing up what President Clinton described as: “..terrorist-related facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan.” (President Clinton, NY Times, 8/21/98, p. a12) Justifying the attack on Sudan, the President said: ”Our forces also attacked a factory in Sudan associated with the bin Laden [terrorist] network. The [Shifa] factory was involved in the production of materials for chemical weapons.”(ibid.) The August 21st NY Times spent literally hundreds of lines quoting and commenting on statements from Administration officials as well as various unnamed sources in favor of the bombing.
Here’s one example: “Bin Laden has made financial contributions to the Sudanese military-industrial complex,” a senior American intelligence official said today, “of which, we believe, the Shifa pharmaceutical facility is part.” (NY Times, 8/21, p.11) So this was the official U.S. justification. But what about the Times? How did it cover the story? How should it have covered the story? WHAT IF THE U.S. WERE THE VICTIM? What if Sudan had launched Cruise missiles against the U.S.? What would we expect of a Sudanese newspaper? We might say: It should present the Sudanese attack on the U.S. in an unbiased fashion so readers could make up their own minds; It should analyze Sudanese government justifications, asking: “are they logical?” and “are they based on fact?” It should report casualties on page one; It should prominently display counter-arguments, not only from the U.S. government, which everyone would expect to oppose the attacks, but from Sudanese critics as well. Did the Times live up to these standards? On 8/21/98, the Times ran the following banner headline on page 1: ‘U.S. CRUISE MISSILES STRIKE SUDAN AND AFGHAN TARGETS TIED TO TERRORIST NETWORK’ Everyone skims newspapers. Studies show that headlines are often the only thing people read and therefore the only thing they remember. That makes them very important. Is anything wrong with this headline?
To start with, it assumes a whole lot. It assumes a world-wide terrorist network exists. It assumes the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant is part of it. In other words it assumes the validity of the U.S. government justification. It holds US arguments to be self-evident. But isn’t the validity of these arguments precisely what the Times should be investigating? We’ll return to the headline later. Let’s look at some text from the article itself. Here’s paragraph 3: ”With about 74 missiles aimed to explode simultaneously in unsuspecting countries on two continents, the operation was the most formidable American military assault ever against a private sponsor of terrorism.” (‘NY Times’, 8/21/98, p.1, our emphasis)
In making its point (that this was a big military assault) the Times again assumes the truth of the US position (that the Shifa plant was part of a privately sponsored terrorist organization.) In another article, Times enthusiasm for the government’s argument ascends to poetry: “The twin attacks [on Afghanistan and the Sudan] provided a certain symmetry to the [Embassy] bombings in East Africa. Though seas apart, the targets share a connection to Mr. bin Laden.” (ibid., p.A10. Our emphasis.) The government’s position is stated casually, as one might state any universally accepted fact. Evidence is not required. WHAT ABOUT OPPOSING VIEWS? The August 21st issue of the Times is devoted mostly to the missile attack. Do any of these articles, does even one of these articles, report criticism of U.S. actions? Just barely. With hundreds of lines of text supporting the missile strikes, the Times lets the opposition speak in paragraph 20 of a p.13 article called Long Enmity Between U.S. and Sudan Boils Over. “Ghazi Salaheddin, the [Sudanese] Information Minister, said the plant had been opened two years ago and produced nothing but medicines. ‘This is a crime,’ he said. ‘There is no justification for this attack.'” (NY Times, 8/21, p.A13) That’s it. Page 13, paragraph 20.
Doesn’t such positioning guarantee a tiny readership? And even this tiny morsel, placed obscurely, quotes a Sudanese official, a man whom everyone would expect to oppose an attack on Sudan whether or not that attack were justified. Moreover, much of the August 21st Times is spent accusing the Sudanese government of supporting terrorism. With so much negative conditioning, how seriously will readers take any statement made by a member of such a government? AN UNREPORTED POLL An August 22 Gallup Poll showed 19% of the American people opposed the bombing and 16% were unsure. One might say this was a poor showing for the antiwar position: if the poll was accurate, 2/3 of the people supported Clinton. But look at it another way. Consider that the media never presented the opposing view and that despite this, 38% did not support Clinton. Imagine how much stronger the opposition would have been if people had heard both sides. By the way, the NY Times never reported the results of the Gallup Poll. In fact, a thorough Internet search uncovered mention of the poll in only one U.S. newspaper. Would you care to guess which one? No, not the ‘Washington Post’ or the ‘Boston Globe’ or the ‘San Francisco Chronicle’. The ‘Fresno Bee’. ‘Fresno Bee’, guardian of democracy.
Check it out: August 23, 1998. UNCRITICAL CRITICS The word “critic” does appear on page 1 of the August 21st ‘NY Times’. The article reports that Congressional Republican do not oppose the bombing. It is headlined: ‘Critics Support President’s Action.’ Isn’t a political “critic” someone who opposes or at least raises questions about an action? By associating the word “critic” with support for Clinton, the Times gives readers the impression that nobody opposes the bombing. “See, honey? Even the critics are backing Clinton on this.” A MARGINALIZED EXPERT A few real domestic critics did make it to the pages of the NY Times but not until three days after the bombing and then only in the Letters to the Editor section. Here is one such letter: ”No state has the right to exact retribution through an armed attack on another country….Nor does any state have the right to launch missiles against a country it believes to harbor terrorists…President Clinton’s bald assertion that the U.S. bombing was justifiable because the Sudan and Afghanistan have consistently failed to heed U.S. demands to eject Osama bin Laden and others is extraordinary…The real victim [of the missile attacks] was a world in which rules matter and those responsible for acts of violence are brought to justice, not simply killed.” (James C. Hathaway, Prof. of International Law, U. of Michigan, NY Times, 8/23/98, p. A14)
Why couldn’t the Times have put the views of this expert on international law on page one? Was a decision made by the Times not to lend credence to dissenting views? COULD THEY HAVE DONE IT RIGHT? Of course they could have. For example, the Times could have run the following headline: ‘Clinton Defends Missile Attack; Critics Charge State Terrorism’ Then they could have presented views from both sides. Wouldn’t that have been fair? And wouldn’t it have had a very different effect on public opinion? WORLDWIDE OPPOSITION Within two days Clinton’s explanation was under siege. Hundreds of millions of people around the world opposed the missile attack as lawless violence.
Sudanese who opposed Osama bin Laden and Islamic Fundamentalism were furious. Here is Abdulrahman Abuzayd, an opponent of the Fundamentalist Sudanese government: “‘As a Sudanese I’m mad…O.K., we have problems with this regime. But we solve them ourselves. Now the Americans have come and given it a big shot in the arm…”‘ (NY Times, 8/23/98, p.11)
And concerning Osama bin Laden: ‘”The Americans have suddenly created a Muslim hero out of him, whereas last week he was considered a fanatic nut.”‘ (ibid.) Another well-known opponent of the Sudanese government spoke out: ”A lawyer for the owner of the bombed pharmaceutical plant said at a news conference that the factory was solely owned by Salah Idrisee, a Sudanese businessman…The lawyer, Gazi Suliman, who is well known here as a member of the political opposition said it was ‘rubbish’ that Mr. bin Laden was an investor in the company. He said that the Sudanese Government had no financial interest in the plant and that it had made only human and veterinary drugs, supplying more than 50 percent of the domestic market. The Sudanese will now be without a vital supply of medicines, he said…Mr. Suliman called on the international community to form an investigative committee to look into what the plant had manufactured. ‘We will accept the results,’ he said.” (ibid. Our emphasis)
TRYING OUT A NEW EXPLANATION So Clinton’s team went back to the drawing board and on 8/25/98, a front page headline in the Times declared: ‘U.S. Says Iraq aided Production of Chemical Weapons in Sudan – Baghdad’s Role Cited as Key Reason for Attack’ Take a look at the first three paragraphs: ”The U.S. believes that senior Iraqi scientists were helping to produce elements of the nerve agent VX at the factory in the Sudan that the American cruise missiles destroyed last week, Administration and intelligence officials said today. The evidence cited today as justification for the attack consisted of a soil sample secretly obtained months ago outside the factory, the Shifa pharmaceutical Industries, the officials said. Publicly the Administration has refused to describe its evidence in any detail, or to say how it was obtained. ”The rare chemical would require two more steps, one very complex, to be turned into VX, one of the deadliest nerve agents in existence and the chemical, whose acronym is Empta has no industrial uses. ”The United Nations and the Unites States has long agreed that Iraq is extremely skilled at many kinds of VX production.” (NY Times, 8/25/98, p.1. Our emphasis) This article is instructive in several ways: First, there is still no answer to the charge that the missile bombings were illegal. The Times simply ignores this view, probably held by most people in the world, including millions in the U.S. Second, other than an unsubstantiated claim regarding Iraq’s “skill” at making VX nerve gas, the article cites no actual evidence of “Baghdad’s role.” It simply asserts a U.S. “belief” (without saying who holds this belief) that Iraqi scientists were “helping” make nerve gas at the Shifa plant. This is rumor-mongering, not news. Third, if “Baghdad’s role” was really the reason for the attack why didn’t Clinton or anyone else mention it until five days after the bombing? And what about the original key reason, the connection between bin Laden and the Sudanese government? How can the key reason for an action change after the fact? (“Your Honor, my client doesn’t think his original testimony has convinced the Jury and he would like to drop it and try another.”) And why doesn’t the Times comment on this attempt to rewrite the historical record? Fourth, once again the Times simply asserts that the Shifa plant made chemical weapons. No evidence is given; but the ‘Times’ proceeds to raise issues that would only make sense if the unproven assertion (that the plant manufactured deadly chemicals) were true. This is very clever, and our media uses this technique often. It might be called ‘The trick of the consequent argument.’. If someone tells you a lie, let us say that “They say Steve beats his wife,” you may dispute it. But if someone lies to you by asking, “Did Steve get a lawyer yet on that wife-beating charge?” you are much less likely to question the hidden lie – that Steve has been accused of wife beating. After all, if he had not been accused, why would he be getting a lawyer? Fifth, the Times presents the government’s claim, that the chemical Empta has no possible commercial uses, as if it were a proven fact. (More self-evidence.)
Now let’s return to the article. Moving down to paragraph seven, it abruptly shifts from “Baghdad’s role” to an entirely different matter: a dispute at the UN: “The U.S., however, has rebuffed calls from the Sudan and other countries to turn over its evidence [that nerve gas was being produced at the Shifa factory in Sudan]. At the UN, the Security Council today put off a request by Arab nations, submitted by Kuwait, one of the closest Arab allies of the U.S., to send inspectors to search the rubble in Khartoum for signs of chemicals related to VX… ‘I don’t see what the purpose of a fact-finding study would be,’ Peter Burleigh, the deputy American representative to the UN said after the meeting. ‘We have credible information that fully justifies the strike we made on that one facility in Khartoum.'” (ibid.) Isn’t this rather startling? First of all, what is a UN report doing in an article about rumors of Iraqi involvement? Second, I don’t know about you, but I had to read it twice to make sure it actually says what it says. Not only is the U. S. government asserting the right to send missiles wherever it wants if it claims to have “credible information” of a link to “terrorism” but it refuses to allow an independent investigation to verify the truth of the “information” that such a link exists.
In other words, the U.S. government has designated itself investigator, prosecutor, judge, executioner and court of appeals for international affairs. Amazing.
TECHNIQUE #2: BIAS BY POSITION As readers proceed through an article they drop away in droves. By placing the UN report seven paragraphs down, the Times editors guarantee it will have fewer readers than if they placed it in paragraph one. This is an example of Bias by Position. What’s the real news story here? The blather about “Baghdad’s role?” Or the hard fact that the U.S. refuses to allow the Security Council to inspect the Sudanese factory? By positioning the Baghdad gossip ahead of the UN story, the ‘Times’ achieves two things. First, it buries the story of US stonewalling at the UN where few will read it and second it dulls the perception of those who do read it in a fog of sensational rumor-mongering about Iraq. “Honey did you hear? Iraq’s behind that Sudanese nerve gas plant. And we’re standing tall at the UN too!” If the UN story had been put first, the headline might have been different, something like: ‘U.S. Says No to Inspection of Bombed Plant’ Quite a change from: ‘U.S. Says Iraq aided Production of Chemical Weapons in Sudan ‘ Since 8/25/98 the Times has published only one article dealing with the “Baghdad connection.” That single article appeared on 8/26/98, page 8. The headline read: ‘Iraqi Deal With Sudan on Nerve Gas Reported’ Here is the beginning of the article: “At the end of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, when the Sudan was one of Iraq’s few remaining friends in the world, the Government here struck a bargain with Baghdad, foreign diplomats and Sudanese said today. In return for Iraqi financial help and assistance by military and civilian experts, the Sudan agreed to allow its installations to be used by Iraqi technicians for steps in the production of chemical weapons, they said.” (NY Times, 8/26/98, p. a8)
This is less than convincing. It reports that something never specified might have happened somewhere in the Sudan eight years ago, or thereabouts, but there no evidence and no specific event. And the people who told the Times about this something-or-other are not named. The first paragraph, the most-read part of any news story, makes a non-point: after the Gulf War “the Sudan was one of Iraq’s few remaining friends in the world.” This serves only to lend credibility to the vague statement: “the [Sudanese] Government here struck a bargain with Baghdad.” As with all rumor-mongering, it creates an impression without solid evidence. FOR THE TRUTH, PLEASE SEE THE END The actual facts are at the very end of the article, starting in paragraph 30, and these facts contradict the earlier stuff: “Iraq’s representative at the UN denied [the charge]. ‘Iraq has had pharmaceutical contracts with the Government of the Sudan and I believe that this was the factory that was producing these medicines…So in that context we have had commercial ties,’”[said the representative]. [The Times has seen] Copies of documents from an Iraqi order…of a compound intended for de-worming farm animals… approved by the Security Council sanctions committee.”(NY Times, 8/26/98, P.A8) So Iraq had a legitimate, medical connection to the Shifa factory. A Times investigator even dug up UN documents by way of evidence. Why isn’t this important news put on page one, with a big headline? After all, it contradicts the US government’s claim, broadcast a day earlier – on page one. Why, instead, is it stuck at the end of an article which begins by endorsing the government’s position which this new information discredits? And why isn’t the article organized logically? Why isn’t the substantial news placed at the beginning, with the rumors put at the end? And shouldn’t the headline have been changed to something like: ‘Iraq ordered veterinary drugs from bombed plant’ Or even: ‘Contradicting US Claim, Iraq Had Legitimate Link to Shifa Plant’ Since August 26, 1998 I have seen no reference in the NY Times to Iraq producing nerve gas in Sudan. Nor has the Times retracted the original story. How can our leaders bomb a factory, present a justification for the bombing, switch to a different justification and then drop the new justification as well? And how can our newspapers present these twists and turns without a word of criticism? Are U.S. foreign policy arguments some kind of sales promotions, to be tried out and discarded if they can’t move the product? Is the Times an ad agency? IF IT’S NOT ONE THING IT’S ANOTHER… On August 27th more problems surfaced: “The chemical that the U.S. cited to justify its missile attacks on a Sudanese factory last week could be used for commercial products, the international agency overseeing the treaty that bars chemical weapons said today. The U.S. has insisted that the chemical found outside the plant could only mean that the plant was intended to make the nerve agent VX.” (NY Times, 8/27/98, p.1) Note that though the Times does report this news, which is damaging to the U.S. position, it still accepts as self-evident the government’s claim that it had found traces of Empta outside the Sudanese plant. The Times does not remind readers of the U.S. refusal to allow an independent Security Council investigation of this claim. Buried in the last paragraph of the same article there’s a bombshell. Thomas Carnaffin, a British engineer who worked as a technical supervisor during the Sudanese factory’s construction from 1992 to 1996 said he saw no evidence that the factory was used to produce nerve gas: “‘I suppose I went into every corner of the plant,’ he said in an interview from his home in England. ‘It was never a plant of high security. You could walk around anywhere you liked and no one tried to stop you.'” (ibid., p.8) By August 28th, the world was in an uproar over the growing body of evidence that the government had lied. One Times article explained that chemical analysts could easily mistake Roundup, the weed killer, for Empta, the nerve gas ingredient. Was the government using the Times to float a cover story in case it had to back down from its nerve gas story? “Oh, it was weed killer! So sorry!” Former technical supervisor Thomas Carnaffin was quoted again: “The plant ‘just didn’t lend itself to making chemical weapons,’ said Tom Carnaffin, a British mechanical engineer who served as technical manager at the plant during its construction from 1992 to 1996. ‘Workers there mixed pre-formulated chemicals into medicines,’ he said, ‘and lacked the space to stockpile or manufacture other chemicals.'” (ibid., 8/28/98)
THE PRESIDENT SPEAKS… On Aug. 29, 1998, the government attempted some damage-control. (It is trendy to use the term “spin” but “spin” fails to differentiate between praise and averting disaster. “Damage control” is accurate.) The Times ran a story headlined: ‘Flaws in U.S. Account Raise Questions on Strike in Sudan’ In it the President was quoted expressing deep concern for the workers in the pill factory. He had blown the place to smithereens just a week earlier but now he wanted to let the American people know he cared, so he shared some pain. As follows: “Mr. Clinton said today that he stayed awake ’till 2:30 in the morning [before the bombing] trying to make absolutely sure that at that chemical plant there was no night shift. …He added: ‘I didn’t want some person who was a nobody to me, but who may have a family to feed and a life to live, and probably had no earthly idea what else was going on there, to die needlessly.'”(ibid., 8/29/98, p.1. Our emphasis.) … MAYBE HE SHOULDN’T HAVE SPOKEN? Is anything wrong with this? Do you recall the original NY Times headline: ‘U.S. CRUISE MISSILES STRIKE SUDAN AND AFGHAN TARGETS TIED TO TERRORIST NETWORK’ Just after the attacks, the AP reported that: “A senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Sudanese target, the Shifa Pharmaceutical plant, is used to make precursor chemicals for the deadly nerve gas VX. The official said there is no evidence that the plant actually makes commercial pharmaceuticals. It is fenced and guarded by the Sudanese military.” (Associated Press, 8/21/98) The plant made nerve gas. If it made anything else as well it was a well-kept secret. Or at least that was the government’s position after the plant was destroyed. How does that jibe with Clinton’s supposed pre-bombing concerns? Clinton claims that the night before the attack he lay awake worrying about some unknown worker who “probably had no earthly idea what else was going on” in the plant. Doesn’t “what else” refer to the production of nerve gas? Isn’t Clinton saying he was afraid a worker would probably think the plant only made commercial products? But if after the attack U.S. officials (including Clinton) said they were sure the plant made no commercial products, then why before the attack would a worker probably believe the plant only made commercial goods? How could anyone with a half a brain, who worked in a nerve gas factory, a place so shrouded in secrecy it was “fenced and guarded by the Sudanese military,” a place in which there was “no evidence” of the production of “commercial pharmaceuticals” and which would of necessity have strict safety and security precautions to prevent theft or injury – how could a person who worked in such a factory possibly believe it was not a weapons plant? Does Clinton think Sudanese workers are on crack? Or does he just think Americans are too dense to remember what their President says from one day to the next? Clinton’s statement cannot be an accurate picture of his feelings the night before the attack unless he was aware at that time that the plant manufactured medicines. Either Clinton (and the government) was not telling the truth when he (and they) justified bombing the plant or Clinton was not telling the truth when he described his night of torment. Or maybe he was lying in both cases. Maybe they’re all lying. Maybe lying isn’t even the right word. Maybe the real problem is that Clinton is using two different writers and they’re just not talking to each other. Maybe our government’s statements are fictions created with regard only for effect, and newspapers like the Times are just hi-class advertising media like those fliers they cram into the mailbox announcing specials on baloney and toilet paper. Clinton’s night-of-torment statement appeared in an article with the headline: “Flaws in the US account.” Nice title but wouldn’t it be nice if the Times pointed out the flaws in the US account? If they had just re-read their own newspaper from the day they reported the bombing they would have seen that Clinton’s night-of-torment story made no sense. Isn’t anybody thinking at the NY Times? Or is this an unfair criticism? Are they in fact thinking of the best ways to sell US foreign policy? IF YOU WANT TO KNOW THE REAL ATTITUDES OF THE MIGHTY, READ THEIR WORDS Bill Clinton is a salesman par excellence in a nation that loves a hustle. It is best to read what such a person says rather than watching him on TV so you won’t be distracted by his voice and facial expressions and can focus in on the content. In the statement quoted above, Clinton claims to have been worried about a night shift worker “who might be a nobody to me.” When he says such things on TV he looks earnest and abashed, part concerned father, part puppy dog. But reading his words in print gives a different picture: “might be a nobody.” Is it possible to use “might be a nobody” as a compliment? Isn’t “a nobody” someone beneath the speaker, someone held in contempt? “Poor Susan, she married such a nobody.” “Better study, honey, or you’ll grow up to be a nobody like your ugly Uncle Jim.” What do we know about this nobody, object of the President’s concern? We know that he or she is an African, a worker, a poor person, and black. Don’t most Americans fall into on or more of these categories? Aren’t these the groups that Clinton “targets” for political support? In a similar vein, Clinton says the night shift worker “may have a family, a life.” You might think Clinton is being a bit harsh saying he or she “may have a life,” but remember he is talking about “a nobody.” Is this how the President really thinks? Or did his PR writers screw up once again? TECHNIQUE #3: LABELS. Labels are commonly-used words and phrases which can be applied to a person or group and which prompt a particular reaction in the reader. Consider the label, “resistance fighter.” This was used a lot in the 80s, during the Afghan War. At the time, the Soviets sent troops into Afghanistan. The situation was complex but Pres. Reagan recognized a fight between good and evil when he saw one: the Russian invaders and their Afghan allies were evil; the U.S.-backed Islamic Fundamentalists were good. “Resistance fighters.” The press adopted Reagan’s language and this colored the way Americans viewed the struggle. The label, “resistance fighter,” connotes “heroism” and “decency”. It calls to mind the movie Casablanca with Rick’s employees sneaking off to secret meetings with the heroic Laslo. Actually the Russians’ supporters in Afghanistan were a good deal more Casablanca-like than the “resistance fighters.” The Russians were allied with non-fundamentalist Muslims who might not have liked the Russian invasion but understandably feared the vicious and intolerant “resistance” fanatics a good deal more. Labels can change quickly when the policy changes. “Terrorist” is a negative label – the opposite of “resistance fighter.” It is so negative that attacks on “terrorists” need scant justification. This can be very helpful. Again, consider the power of that 8/21/98 headline: ‘U.S. CRUISE MISSILES STRIKE SUDAN AND AFGHAN TARGETS TIED TO TERRORIST NETWORK’ Most of us never heard of Osama bin Laden before last August 21st but by saying he was “the preeminent organizer and financier of international terrorism in the world today,” President Clinton conjured up images of rage and random mayhem that seemed to justify swift, strong action. We were told the main target of the missile attack was not just bin Laden, but: “…terrorist facilities and infrastructure in Afghanistan. Our forces targeted one of the most active terrorist bases in the world…a training camp for literally thousands of terrorists from around the globe.” (NY Times, 8/21/98, p. a12. My emphasis) This theme – that there is a terrorist organization which links the terrorist base in Afghanistan with a terrorist factory in Sudan – is repeated throughout the August 21st NY Times. The Afghan “terrorist base” is of course Clinton’s strong suit. A “terrorist base” is a place where terrorists prepare for war; a “terrorist base” is fair game. Factories, on the other hand, are a problem. Americans are squeamish about bombing factories and burning the skin off the workers’ backs. The trick is: link the base to the factory. Here’s the argument: terrorists, financed by the rich Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the Embassy bombings, built a complex of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. The U.S., arch-enemy of terror, rolled up its sleeves and destroyed these training camps and a bin Laden-owned factory in Sudan as well. The U.S. has thereby sent a message to terrorists around the globe. They can read our missiles. They will be hunted down and destroyed without mercy. The U.S. is on the job.
But wait. What if the training camps were falsely portrayed? What if they had been built by the U.S. government? What if bin Laden and his associates were in fact old CIA hands? It would be a bit awkward, wouldn’t it? If this was true, and if the Times knew it was true on August 21st, wouldn’t the Times’ failure to print this information on page one constitute a profound betrayal of trust? BUT THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW… The complex the U.S. attacked on August 20th is located near the Pakistani border: ”The camps, hidden in the steep mountains and mile-deep valleys of Paktia province, were the place where all seven ranking Afghan resistance leaders maintained underground headquarters and clandestine weapons stocks during their bitter and ultimately successful war against Soviet troops from Dec. 1979 to February 1989, according to American intelligence veterans…The Afghan resistance was backed by the intelligence services of the United States and Saudi Arabia…[and this camp represents] ‘the last word in NATO engineering techniques.’” (NY Times, 8/24/98, p.A1 & A7. Our emphasis) And the “resistance fighters” whom the U.S. backed in the Afghan war during the 80s? “Some of the same warriors who fought the Soviets with the CIA’s help are now fighting under Mr. bin Laden’s banner.” (ibid., p.A1) So. These people, whom the U.S. government calls the worst terrorists in the world, were set up in the business by the U.S. government. And the Times knew this on August 21st when it devoted many articles to covering the missile attacks. The Times management chose to withhold this critical information from the public. The August 24th article quoted above unwittingly betrays the method by which the U.S. government’s sponsorship of bin Laden is justified. When the U.S. openly supported bin Laden and friends, they were give a label (“resistance fighters”) so they were ok. Now they have been given a new label (“terrorists”) and thus they are transformed. The U.S. government is absolved of guilt because the people it supported in the past weren’t these terrorists it is bombing today, they were those resistance fighters. Amazing. ‘”When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean— neither more nor less.'” (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, ch. 6.) Once renamed, these people, or anything or anyone the U.S. government accuses of being linked to these people, can be bombed. No need for UN discussion, no need for proof, no need for nothing: the U.S. is covert investigator, unyielding judge, impartial jury and invincible executioner, all sanctified by the struggle against “terrorism.” Will bin Laden have his label changed back to “resistance fighter” when the U.S. government once more requires his services? This may sound preposterous. But consider that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has made just such a transformation – in fact the KLA people have not just gone from terrorists to freedom fighters, they have gone from terrorists/drug dealers all the way up to Nation Builders. And incidentally, it is widely reported that Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists have helped train and fought with the KLA. (See for instance Prof. Chossudovsky’s “The KLA: Gangsters, terrorists and the CIA” at the Website http://www.emperors-clothes.com .) These KLA-helpers apparently include Osama bin Laden’s associates. So perhaps bin Laden has been rehabilitated (and re-transformed!) already. IT’S THE MONEY, STUPID But is emperors-clothes.com being fair? Was the U.S. government in actual partnership with bin Laden and other “resistance fighters” during the Afghan war? Or was it just giving these guys a little support against a common (Russian) foe? Since the U.S. side of the relationship with bin Laden and friends was handled by CIA, much of what took place is unknown. But we do know about one very important thing: money. How much money do you think the US and Saudi Arabia gave the “resistance fighters?” I asked several people this question. One guessed “a few hundred thousand dollars.” Another thought this was way to low. She guessed “$10-15 million.” The highest guess: $20 million. The correct answer is: More than 6 billion dollars. (ibid.) That’s in 1980s money. And that’s just what they admit publicly. Remember, the paymasters were the CIA and Saudi Arabian Intelligence, so the real figure could be twice as high, or higher. The sky’s the limit… MS. ALBRIGHT REFLECTS ON TERROR Speaking in Kenya on Aug. 18, 1998, Madeline Albright said: ‘”Mr. bin Laden’s activities are inimical to those of [sic!] civilized people in the world and in the U.S. And whatever the connection to this, [the Embassy bombings,] I have said previously that his funding of terrorism is something the world is quite aware of.'” (Times, 8/19, P.A4. Our italics; her mangled sentence.) The Times reports that Bin Laden has 250 million dollars and has used SOME of it to build a terrorist network. (In other words, he still has the 250 million bucks, according to the Times.) Meanwhile the Times reports that the U.S. SPENT more than 6 billion dollars to support terrorism – and that’s just in Afghanistan. In other words, the US no longer has the 6 billion bucks. And how many billions have been funneled to similar resistance fighters in other lands? Such as the Kosovo Liberation (?) Army, or KLA? Consider again Ms. Albright’s statement: “[These]activities are inimical to those of [sic!] civilized people in the world.” Don’t Albright’s words fly back and accuse her? Isn’t it the governments of the United States and Saudi Arabia who did something “inimical to civilized people” by “funding terrorism” on a vast scale in Afghanistan? Hasn’t this funding resulted in a true catastrophe? Haven’t our terrorists turned Afghanistan into a house of horrors? Who is the greater terrorist? The person who pulls the trigger? Or the superpower that recruits him, pays him, trains him, arms him to the teeth and builds him the finest state-of-the-art training camp with room for “terrorists from all over the world?” If a worldwide terrorist organization has been created by the people whom the U.S. and Saudi Arabia paid during the Afghan war, aren’t the U.S. and Saudi paymasters responsible? And isn’t the U.S. government’s claim that it has discovered the existence of a terrorist organization disingenuous? After all, wasn’t the purpose of spending (over) $6 billion the creation of precisely such an organization? Wasn’t that what they paid for? The U.S. government says it had a good reason for bankrolling the Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists in Afghanistan: namely, to stop the Russians. Shouldn’t we ask: to stop them from doing what? The government in Afghanistan was pro-Russian before the Russians sent in troops and it stayed pro-Russian after the Russians sent in troops. Why did the U.S. have to get involved? Were the Russians going to use Afghanistan as a base for invading China? India? Iran? Pakistan? Sure they were, and I’m Teddy Roosevelt. You can be Mae West, but only if you’re good. What relevance is the U.S. government claim that it had “good reasons” for lavishly bankrolling the Afghan terrorists? Good enough for what? For destroying the lives of most Afghans? And in any case, don’t all terrorists claim they slaughter people for good (by their standards) reasons? Did you ever hear a terrorist boast that he burned people to death for a bad reason? The U.S. did not intervene in Afghanistan because the Russian presence was changing the international balance of power. Rather, using the Russian presence as a pretext, the U.S. intervened because this was a chance to change the international balance of power. In the process, our government destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and created an international force of Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists who wreck havoc from Bosnia to New York – and who continue to plague the Russian people, most recently in Dagestan. WHO IS BIN LADEN, ACTUALLY? According to the Times, bin Laden et al were CIA employees, given the best training, arms, facilities, and lots of cash for many years. That’s what the Times reported on August 24, 1998. In other articles during the same period, the Times reported that bin Laden is a deadly enemy of the U.S. The Times skips over this amazing change lightly in a couple of articles, commenting that the relationship changed, without asking too many questions. In other words, once again, the government line is accepted as self evident. Should we believe that the transformation from employee to enemy has really taken place? Is bin Laden an enemy in fact, or is he, like so much else that comes out of the White House, an enemy in fiction? Remember that during the 80s our leaders swore bin Laden and friends were good guys: “resistance fighters.” Wasn’t that a lie? If the government was lying about them then, why couldn’t it be lying about them now? Let’s do a little imagining. Let’s imagine that bin Laden et al are still CIA employees. Could it be that the missile attack was not intended to destroy bin Laden or his supporters? Could it be the attack was intended to build respect for bin Laden among Muslims who oppose the U.S. government? To lend him credibility as a serious opponent of U.S. domination? Is his new job to siphon Arab anger into regressive Fundamentalist movements and thereby destabilize secular Muslim societies which might resist U.S. control? After all, Islamic Fundamentalists have proven themselves the most effective enemies of independent-minded governments. This is precisely why the U.S. created an Islamic Fundamentalist proxy army in Afghanistan in the first place. And there is evidence the CIA is doing the same thing today in Algeria – covertly supporting a jihad (Islamic holy war) aimed at disrupting a secular Muslim society not under U.S. control. And/or is bin Laden’s new assignment perhaps to be a bogey-man of convenience whom the U.S. government can link to any government it wishes to bomb? Does this sound crazy? Maybe it does at that, but is it any crazier than the admitted fact that the U.S. gave these vicious terrorists more than $6 billion in the first place? Could it be that the lunatics are indeed in control of the asylum? Six BILLION dollars in 1980s money. How much is that in today’s money? Ten billion? Just think. Instead of turning Afghanistan into a living hell they could have cured cancer. TECHNIQUES #4, 5 and 6: SUGGESTIONS, OMISSIONS AND MOCKING DISMISSAL Labels such as “resistance fighter” and “terrorist” are heavy weapons. They enforce a bias on perception. In contrast, suggestions are subtler. They implant a bias gently. We barely feel the needle. A few cases in point: On 8/21, the front page of the Times featured a map of the areas in Afghanistan and Sudan that the U.S. had bombed. The map was entitled: “Suspected Terrorist Installations.” Is anything wrong with this title? The word “suspected” is an example of Suggestion. It suggests the missile strikes were normal acts of law enforcement: policemen are supposed to arrest “suspects”, aren’t they? What’s wrong with police taking action against “suspects”, to restore law and order? What’s wrong is that the U.S. no has right to police Afghanistan or Sudan. And if it did, police are not supposed to hurl bombs into neighborhoods where they claim to believe “suspects” may be hiding. Indeed, even if they “only” kill the “suspects” you may recall that we are supposed to consider “suspects” innocent until proven guilty and thus one could say blowing them to bits is excessive. Here’s another example of Suggestion: Justifying the attack, Clinton claimed: “Our target was terror” and the Times said: ‘TARGETS TIED TO TERRORIST NETWORK’ What does “target” bring to mind? A target is a thing, not a person. It’s round, stuffed with straw or made of paper. It has a bulls-eye. Kids shoot targets with bows and arrows. And targets feel no pain. They have no dreams lost, or children orphaned. Calling the Sudanese factory a “target” suggests an inanimate enemy: buildings, machines, chemicals. No people. Nobody to be blown apart or get his skin burned off. Computer games. Special effects in a Rambo movie. A surgical strike. Take out the “target.” Enhancing this Suggestion, the Times used another technique: Omission. Omission is by far the most effective method of lying. It is the easiest to miss and the hardest to criticize. The Times simply omitted discussion of human casualties. There is only one mention in the 8/21/98 NY Times of anyone being injured in the Sudan bombing. That single mention of injury is p.A13, paragraph 19. And How many people are likely to see it? One in a thousand? Moreover, the description has been whittled down to half a long sentence: “As rescue workers struggle tonight to ferry wounded workers to hospitals and to put out the fire at Al Shifa Pharmaceutical factory, Sudanese officials portrayed themselves as the victims of naked aggression.” (Times, 8/21, p.A13) Gives a whole different picture, doesn’t it? And indeed picture is the important word here, for this description is the first time we get any sense, any glimpse of what the US government actually did in Sudan: the terrible explosion followed by fire, the screams of pain of people burned in a chemical fire – indescribable pain – caused by our government’s action. But it is a short glimpse, for almost immediately the pain of realization is dulled by the comfort of a mocking reminder of unscrupulousness of the Sudanese regime: “Sudanese officials portrayed themselves as the victims of naked aggression.” This sentence typifies a whole category of misrepresentation: mocking dismissal. With mocking dismissal, a perfectly valid statement is reported using a tone that implies only a fool would fall for it. Readers then shy away from the idea in question – after all, who wants to be a fool? In this case, the Times starts with a perfectly reasonable point (that the US had committed naked aggression against Sudan – how else would you describe sending missiles to blow up somebody’s pill factory?) But the Times puts this reasonable assertion in a mocking context: the Sudanese officials are using all this suffering just to score points. So by the end of the paragraph the impact of the beginning of the paragraph is lost – diverted by the Times contempt for the “self-portraying” Sudanese leaders, we have forgotten the fact that US leaders have committed a crime against the workers in the pill factory. The Times employs one of the biggest news organizations in the world. That news organization has access to a vast pool of freelancers and partnership linkups with every news agency from Sweden to Israel. Why didn’t the Times provide a full description of the consequences of the bombing? Pictures of the carnage, interviews with relatives of the injured workers? And why wasn’t this all put on page one? What we have here is omission, bias by position and a shot of mocking dismissal combined: the terrible suffering caused by the US attack is a) hardly mentioned b) mentioned where very few people will read it and c) mitigated by a mocking attack on the Sudan *government. What would we say if Sudan bombed a U.S. factory and a Sudanese newspaper hid the fact that some people had been critically injured? (Not only hid the fact, but never mentioned how many. Did you notice that in the tiny space devoted to casualties, the Times forgot to mention how many people were injured nor the nature of the injuries?) We’d say: “That’s not a newspaper. It’s a propaganda organ.” Or perhaps we wouldn’t use such nice language at all. DOES BOMBING OTHER COUNTRIES BECAUSE THE STATE DEPARTMENT DISLIKES THEIR GOVERNMENTS MAKE THE U.S.A. A ROGUE STATE Here’s a thought-provoking letter that appeared in the 8/27/98 NY Times: “An Aug. 21 editorial [in the NY Times] takes a cavalier approach to the President’s flouting of international law [in bombing Sudan and Afghanistan with 75 Cruise missiles.] I didn’t find it ‘reassuring’ that Mr. Clinton’s aides had recommended the strikes before his mea culpa. ”Following a familiar pattern, unfortunate foreigners (not just terrorists) pay the price for a President’s failures. Instead of examining the foreign policy that has led to the current spate of terrorism, we get involved in a primitive, tit-for-tat blood feud. How will the United States take responsibility for the inevitable “collateral” damage? If we perform unilateral acts of aggression outside of international law, we are also a rogue state.” (Letter written by Carole Ashley, N.Y., NY) Well said, Ms. Ashley. IN CONCLUSION: A REVELATION The August 31st (1998) NY Times includes a letter from David Eisenberg of Brookline, Mass. Mr. Eisenberg compares Israel’s destruction of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 to: “…us in the Sudan with the destruction of nerve gas production. History is tragically repeated: Iraq has not changed.” My first thought, reading this letter, was: Mr. Eisenberg hasn’t been studying his ‘NY Times’. Though the ‘Times’ did publish two articles claiming that Baghdad was behind the (nonexistent) nerve gas production at the pill factory, this story was dropped after August 26th. Mr. Eisenberg lingered in a misinformation time warp. But then it hit me: Eisenberg’s letter illustrates the most important thing about media bias. You see, we read these news articles, these headlines: ‘US Says Iraq aided Production of Chemical Weapons in Sudan Baghdad’s Role Cited as Key Reason for Attack’ we read these rumors, these half truths, these completely one-sided concoctions of hype and false history, and they stick. They stick. After all, we are not studying newspaper stories critically, we are reading with our guard down, and these packagings of misinformation, pitched, altered, replaced if they don’t fly, nevertheless remain in our heads, remain as impressions, joining an ever-growing clutter of mis-impression, coloring our view of the world until we can hardly see at all. Why did our government bomb the Sudanese plant? “Because it was only manufacturing nerve gas. ”No, forget the only. It was manufacturing nerve gas as well as commercial products. Anyway, it was connected to Osama bin Laden. ”No, no, forget that damned bin Laden. It was Iraq. Iraq was behind the whole damn thing. ”Iraq? Who said anything about Iraq? Where did we ever blame Iraq?!” And so on… And this nonsense, multiplied a thousand-fold, forms a kind of smog in our minds, clogging our reasoning, preventing normal reasoning, preventing us from seeing the surrounding mountains of evidence: the US government has burned and killed a lot of people and lied about why. And it has committed these crimes in our name. THE END