Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Latest neoconservative argument for more war crimes: kill journalists

Recall Glenn Greenwald's post about the hypocrisy of those who championed the release of Roxana Saberi from Iranian prison seemingly having no problem with the United States itself targeting journalists for persecution, and his other post about the absurdity of those who claim to worry about inflaming anti-American sentiment yet are more concerned with suppressing evidence of American wrongdoing than stopping it in the first place, as background for this bit of reporting from Jeremy Scahill.

A new report for a leading neoconservative group which pushes a belligerent “Israel first” agenda of conquest in the Middle East suggests that in future wars the US should make censorship of media official policy and advocates “military attacks on the partisan media.” (H/T MuzzleWatch) The report for JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, was authored by retired US Army Colonel Ralph Peters. It appears in JINSA’s “flagship publication,” The Journal of International Security Affairs. “Today, the United States and its allies will never face a lone enemy on the battlefield. There will always be a hostile third party in the fight,” Peters writes, calling the media, “The killers without guns:”

Of course, the media have shaped the outcome of conflicts for centuries, from the European wars of religion through Vietnam. More recently, though, the media have determined the outcomes of conflicts. While journalists and editors ultimately failed to defeat the U.S. government in Iraq, video cameras and biased reporting guaranteed that Hezbollah would survive the 2006 war with Israel and, as of this writing, they appear to have saved Hamas from destruction in Gaza.


Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media. Perceiving themselves as superior beings, journalists have positioned themselves as protected-species combatants. But freedom of the press stops when its abuse kills our soldiers and strengthens our enemies. Such a view arouses disdain today, but a media establishment that has forgotten any sense of sober patriotism may find that it has become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.

The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters.
It is, of course, very appropriate that such a despicable battle cry for murdering media workers appears in a JINSA publication. The organization has long boasted an all-star cast of criminal “advisors.” Among them: Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, James Woolsey, John Bolton, Douglas Feith and others. JINSA, along with the Project for a New American Century, was one of the premiere groups in shaping US policy during the Bush years and remains a formidable force with Obama in the White House.
After noting that the United States already has a history of targeting journalists in warfare (which has no doubt been influenced by the sort of argument Peters and other neoconservatives have made) in a follow-up post, Scahill also noted the hypocrisy regarding Saberi.

This reminds me of how the US held Al Jazeera journalist Sami al Hajj at Guantanamo from December 2001 to May 2008. He alleges he was tortured at Guantanamo and that he had been interrogated over 130 times (as of 2005) with his interrogators insisting in 125 of those interviews that he link al Jazeera to terrorism and Al Qaeda, which he wouldn’t. “He is completely innocent,” his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said during al Hajj’s imprisonment. “He is about as much of a terrorist as my granddad. The only reason he has been treated like he has is because he is an Al Jazeera journalist. The Americans have tried to make him an informant with the goal of getting him to say that Al Jazeera is linked to Al Qaida.” Al Hajj was eventually released after an international campaign and the tenacious work of his lawyers.

When you hold up Iran’s handling of Roxanna Saberi against the US handling of Jassam, the comparison is striking. So too is the level of outcry from other journalists. Loud voices demanded Saberi’s freedom. Websites were established. Some 400 people reportedly joined a hunger strike in solidarity with Saberi. The same is not true for Jassam, who has spent many months in US custody without charges. It is time for journalists, particularly US journalists, to break their silence and demand Jassam’s release. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad released Saberi pretty swiftly after her arrest on espionage charges (and subsequent conviction and sentencing). Obama should follow Iran’s example and release Ibrahim Jassam. But, in the absence of outcry and protest from other journalists, Obama has little to lose by ignoring Jassam’s case.
The argument that Peters has set forth is obscene. It is not merely a call for waging war on freedom of the press, but a call to disregard laws of war, period ("win dirty"). This is an argument that says that the Nazis, Fascists, Imperial Japanese, or any other past perpetrator were not wrong because of what they did, but because they did not win. Indeed, "the greatest 'war crime' the United States can commit is to lose," writes Peters.

And speaking as someone who has written things critical of the war efforts of both the United States and Israel, I'm not exactly thrilled with any argument that tacitly equates with me with legitimate military targets. Really, Peters' call to win at any cost is an invitation to unravel not merely international law but domestic law, as well (as doing so is necessary in the first place to be able to commit the crimes Peters longs for.)

Peters' views might easily be mistaken for those of a sadistic maniac, but this is someone well within the mainstream of American political discourse. For example, Peters is an analyst for Fox News, where he can be seen saying that the United States should kill the people at Gitmo "because they aren't human any more."

Jason Linkins gets it about right when he says

The whole essay immediately reminded me of the book War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, in which author Chris Hedges -- himself a veteran war correspondent -- documents at length the way the experience of war is too often absorbed by its participants like an intoxicant that collapses moral edifices. I wish there was a single good pull from the book that sums this up, but it probably speaks well of the book that it can't be simply boiled down to a single paragraph. Nevertheless, Hedges' work is ably summarized here:

Hedges argues that war is both a deadly addiction -- a drug that offers an unmatchable intoxication, the thrill of being released from the moral strictures of everyday life -- and a unifying force that provides a sense of meaning, purpose, and self-sacrifice that can wash away life's trivial concerns. But the meaningfulness of combat, Hedges suggests, depends upon the myth of war. In reality, no matter what grand cause it is supposed to support, war is simply the basest form of aggression: "organized murder." Once war begins, the moral universe collapses and every manner of atrocity can be justified in the eyes of those who wage it, because the cause is just, the enemy is inhuman, and only war can restore balance to the world.
The simplest way I can summarize Peters' essay is to say that it is like the most monstrous form of the pathology Hedges describes has crawled from the pages of his book to defecate upon the pages of JINSA.

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