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June 23, 2006

Selective Outrage, Media Coverage As A Means Of Asymmetrical Warfare

Open a newspaper or turn on the nightly news and you'll see horrifying accusations of human rights violations by US troops. Though the Haditha investigations are far from incomplete, it is nearly impossible to find press coverage that omits the requisite head-scratcher from Jack Murtha. To hear Murtha tell it, there's "no question" these "cold-blooded killers" "snapped" due to "the strain of repeated deployments". Should we really be surprised when they deliberately “murder” innocent civilians in a fit of rage? Until recently, the media uncritically hyped Mr. Murtha's conviction that there had been an official cover up extending right up the chain of command. Oddly, there has been no mention that Murtha's statement was flatly contradicted by the only investigation completed so far.

So-called terrorists, on the other hand, benefit from scrupulously neutral coverage; that is, when their acts receive any coverage at all. In place of cold-blooded killers whose guilt is certain, we have unproven allegations against suspects targeted by domestic spying government surveillance:

Federal agents, including the FBI, launched a series of raids tonight targeting a suspected terror cell based in Miami, and federal law enforcement officials said seven people have been arrested over the past two days.

Among those arrested, five were U.S. citizens, one was a permanent legal resident, and one was a Haitian who was in the United States illegally on a visa overstay, federal officials told ABC News.

The group has been under surveillance for some time and was infiltrated by a government informant who allegedly led them to believe he was an Islamic radical, a Justice Department official said.

Sources say the arrests reflect the government's concern about so-called "homegrown terrorists."

Contrast this with the coverage of the Haditha incident, no account of which is complete without a reminder from Jack Murtha that there is "no question" about their guilt. Take his word for it - the conclusions of several still-unfinished investigations have already been revealed to him by military officials.

Unlike the accused Marines, their accusers are treated to the same lack of skepticism enjoyed by Murtha. Who are they? A 'young man' who sat on the tape for some time before giving it to Hammurabi Human Rights which is affiliated with the respected group Human Rights Watch. Unmentioned (except in a correction buried in the Times' archives) is the fact that this "young man" is, in fact, the 43 year old founder of Hammurabi. Never mind that he is one of two members of a 16 month old unregistered activist group with no previous record of investigating other human rights violations and no ties to Human Rights Watch. It's hardly worth mentioning that the accuser, who was interviewed by the media a mere three weeks after the Haditha killings, said not a word about the "massacre" at that time. So Time simply doesn't mention it at all.

Undoubtedly, Time regrets the error.

But the accuser is backed by a slew of impartial sources interviewed by email, isn't he?

For instance, there's the morgue doctor, who previously claimed to have been arrested and severely beaten by US troops.

There's the mayor of a terrorist citadel so cowed by the insurgents that only 150 of 900,000 residents voted in the October referendum.

And finally, we have the lawyer who is currently trying to get more blood money for several relatives he claims were murdered by Marines.

If all that weren't enough, there's "the most damning evidence" of all, a cell phone photo. After all, seeing is believing, isn't it?

In the original version of this story, TIME reported that "one of the most damning pieces of evidence investigators have in their possession, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch told Time’s Tim McGirk, is a photo, taken by a Marine with his cell phone that shows Iraqis kneeling — and thus posing no threat — before they were shot." While Sifton did tell TIME that there was photographic evidence, taken by Marines, he had only heard about the specific content of the photos from reports done by NBC, and had no firsthand knowledge.

No doubt Time regrets the error.

The press's laudable desire to avoid sitting in judgment of terrorists is, oddly enough, rarely extended to US servicemembers. This double standard makes them an easy patsy for anyone desiring to vex and annoy the US government with an endless series of accusations that are uncritically parroted by our own media.

But selective outrage is hardly unique to the press. Amnesty International is outraged over US human rights violations, yet all they offer the two US soldiers whose tortured and grotesquely mutilated bodies were found on a road are their sincerest condolences and a heartfelt plea to the killers: "Don't! Stop!" Though the two US soldiers were reportedly killed by Iraqi troops, there is no condemnation of the Iraqi government which failed to control them. Amnesty sees to need to investigate these men’s deaths.

The media are outraged by collateral damage of US attacks on terrorist strongholds, yet inexplicably they ignore deliberate strikes against innocent civilians by Iraq's “freedom fighters”:

Bomber hits Iraq old age home reports news 24, a South African news outlet.

The headline above is the only one I could find by Googling Basra, bomber, old age home.

The BBC hid the information in the last sentence of the article about the two American servicemen tortured to death by their Al Qaeda Iraq abductors. The rest of MSM followed the same pattern.

We are allowed to hear that terrorists booby-trapped the mutilated corpses of two US servicemembers. We are not told the insurgents regularly do the same thing to small children.

Despite evidence that terrorists feed on media coverage, the press continue to hype news of terrorist attacks (usually with repeated reminders that terror is working and we're losing the war) while declining to cover the military's success stories:

"Both the media and terrorists benefit from terrorist incidents," their study contends. Terrorists get free publicity for themselves and their cause. The media, meanwhile, make money "as reports of terror attacks increase newspaper sales and the number of television viewers."

What is the result of the markedly unequal treatment afforded to terrorists and accused servicemen? One indication is provided by Amnesty International, which is moving aggressively to declare human rights violators Hostis Humanii Generis; enemies of all mankind who can be prosecuted no matter where they try to hide:

Initially, a federal judge dismissed the Filartigas’ claims on the grounds that Paraguay’s treatment of its own citizens was not governed by international law. But the Court of Appeals rejected this reasoning. Specifically, the Court of Appeals found that torture was a violation of international law, and that torturers—like the pirates of the 18th century—were hostis humanii generis (enemies of all mankind) who could be brought to justice anywhere.

In the Filartiga v. Peña-Irala ruling, the appeals court relied on the 1975 United Nations Declaration Against Torture and All Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the United Nations promulgated following Amnesty International’s first international campaign against torture. The relationship between human rights activism and success in the courtroom could not have been clearer.

Prosecuting tortures, at first glance, sounds entirely reasonable. But who will be prosecuted by Amnesty International?

Who exactly are the enemies of mankind? For Amnesty, they are mostly government officials -- which is a wise position, honestly, a wiser one than the United Nations system credits. The UN system believes that rights belong to states, and the "rights" of individuals are to be protected through the various nation states. This is why Cuba is now on the UN's Human Rights watchdog group.

Like the ICC at the Hague, Amnesty International reserves the bulk of its outrage for the United States and Israel while virtually ignoring far worse crimes from totalitarian states like China, North Vietnam, Cuba, Libya, and Sudan. Why does this happen?

It happens because democratic nations like the US and Israel do not tolerate such abuses. Their legal systems of these serial human rights abusers are exquisitely sensitive to the rights of alleged victims. Paradoxically, their greatest strengths of established democracies - the capacity for introspection, a free press, and respect for the civil rights of even non-citizens - are used against them. The likelihood of bringing human rights violators to justice in China or Cuba is virtually nil, but in America the slightest whiff of scandal brings on an avalanche of self-loathing from the press, with the attendant investigations and criminal charges, many of which (as in the case of Ilario Pantano or the British soldiers recently accused of war crimes in Basra) are eventually proven groundless.

Our adversaries in the war on terror have not been slow to take advantage of this. Hammurabi Human Rights Group, the accuser in the Haditha case, is (contrary to Time's blatant misrepresentation) a 16 month-old organization with only two members who never bothered to investigate a single human rights violation before Haditha. But an anti-war agenda and our own ideals allow due process to become a vehicle for asymmetrical warfare against established democracies. Asymmetrical, because Iraq's own human rights violators will never be prosecuted, nor will those of other despotic regimes. Our enemies have found a way to use our own ideals against us.

The selective outrage of the international community is well established. The same United Nations that condemns the US and Israel with astonishing regularity refuses to act against known abusers like Libya and Cuba. On the contrary; their crimes are rewarded by leadership positions on the UN Human Rights Committee, thus cleverly putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse. The ICC relentlessly pursues Israel while ignoring the plight of immigrants to Arab nations, whose passports are routinely seized on arrival allowing them to be literally enslaved without hope of reprieve.

Yet the US is condemned for resisting the demands of groups like Human Rights Watch and the ICC; for refusing to be prosecuted under agreements to which they are not a signatory.

In the name of human rights, we are condemned for refusing to knuckle under to unequal justice which leaves us defenseless against a ruthless enemy far more contemptuous of 'international norms' than we are. And yet, we continue to investigate and, where guilt has been proven, punish our own offenders. Is it surprising, then, that the number of accusations continues to increase? We cannot refuse to investigate without sacrificing every principle we hold dear. We are honor-bound not to turn away. Our own scruples become a knife the enemy can twist in our guts until at last the only nation willing to stand up to dicatators and terrorists is paralyzed into inaction.

Talk about your unintended consequences. But what else can we do, without sacrificing our own humanity?

Posted by Cassandra at June 23, 2006 08:17 AM


"Both the media and terrorists benefit from terrorist incidents," their study contends. Terrorists get free publicity for themselves and their cause. The media, meanwhile, make money "as reports of terror attacks increase newspaper sales and the number of television viewers."

Let us not forget how the Radical Liberal Left also benefit from both the terrorist incidents and from the media publicizing such incidents.

Let us not forget how they MANIPULATE these incidents as a political tool against those in office to regain their political power that has been constantly dwindling away. How they jump in front of the closest available MSM news source to protest the "treatment" of the enemy.

Let us not forget how they also avoid any acknowledgement WHATSOEVER of the tortured American soldiers who put their lives in harms way every day to defend our freedoms. How they convienently forget about the many successes that have been accomplished by our involvement in Iraq. How they completely disregard the safety of this country and our citizens by their cavalier attitudes and actions which are carefully choreographed to maximize their political gain from our so called failures.

Please, I beg of you, let us not forget these things on election day.

Posted by: ChatterBox at June 23, 2006 11:19 AM

I was so disappointed when you stopped blogging here for a while. I am so glad you are back on the case.
OH, and What Chatterbox Said.

Posted by: Pat'sRick at June 24, 2006 08:28 AM

Thank you.

There are a lot of days (sometimes weeks) when I wonder why in the heck I'm doing this.

Then I come here and see all of you, and I remember why.

And it's enough. More than enough.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 24, 2006 08:40 AM

Assymetric warfare? I prefer the non-Euclidean type myself.

Hoo boy! Ya can't ever go wrong with a math joke!

Posted by: a former european at June 24, 2006 04:24 PM

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