Saturday, November 14, 2009






This afternoon, Jenan Hussein and Warren P. Strobel (McClatchy Newspapers) report a satire by Warid Badr Salim in al Mada has led over 150 members of Parliament sign on to suing the newspaper. The reporters note, "The chilling atmosphere for the news media was underscored this week when an Iraqi court fined the London-based Guardian newspaper nearly $87,000, finding that it had defamed Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. An article in the paper in April quoted unnamed Iraqi intelligence officials describing what they said was Maliki's increasingly authoritarian rule. [. . .] Free expression is one of the few benefits that Iraqi count from the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Basic services such as electricity and sewage are still in disrepair, and sectarian violence, while much reduced, is still a daily occurence. The backlash against journalists and curbs on book, cartoons and plays, often for religious reasons, raise questions about what kind of society the United States will leave behind when American troops withdraw from Iraq at the end of 2011." The article in question is Ghaith Abdul-Ahad's "Six years after Saddam Hussein, Nouri al-Maliki tightens his grip on Iraq" (April 30, 2009). Tuesday the court or 'court' rendered their or 'their' verdict.

As Elaine observed Wednesday, "The above topic should have been the front page of every daily paper this morning. Instead everyone turned their heads, averted their eyes and, in doing so, endorsed the assault on the press. If Nouri al-Maliki saw that the entire world would jeer him over these nonsense law suits, you better believe he'd think twice about doing it again. As it is, he's been allowed to attack the press. Let me add: Yet again." And let me add, because I've been waiting to see if this would be the case, that's All Things Media Big and Small. ALL. Get the picture? Thursday the Guardian editorialized, "But the case against the Guardian in Iraq is notable alarming. Despite repeated hearings over several months, the paper was not asked to present written evidence or provide statements from the editor or the reporter invovled. Compensation was apparently awarded for damage to the Iraqi prime minister, even though he was not a party to the legal action. The Iraqi people were promised freedom after the fall of Saddam. They deserve a free press and fair courts, robust enough to stand up to government."
Exactly. And yet where has the media been on this story?

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly.
I'm crying.
-- "I Am The Walrus" (recorded by the Beatles, written by John Lennon, credited to Lennon & McCartney)

Thursday we noted that the Guardian is out there pretty much all alone. No outlet has stepped forward to stand with them. That's disgraceful. And when Nouri's other cases (both pending ones and ones yet to be filed) against news outlets come forward, some of these same outlets are going to want others to stand up for them and stand with them. Why should anyone bother? When none of them can stand up for the press right now, why should anyone later stand up for the cowards?

Thursday night, it turned out I might have been a bit harsh. That's when Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, took a brave stand and stated:

This rulling has to send a shiver up the spin of anyone who hopes for a genuinely democratic Iraq. What the court calls libel is, in most countries, called journalism. Indeed, if a respected journalist like Ghaith Abdul-Ahad can be punished for reporting on concerns about a trend toward authoritarian government, the verdict would seem to lend credence to those very concerns.

What a brave editorial statement from Bill Keller and thank goodness he was not afraid to put that in print in his paper because . . .

Oh, wait.

That didn't appear in the New York Times.

Bill Keller was quoted in Julian Borger's article for the Guardian that posted Thursday ngiht and appeared in Friday's paper. You know what, Bill, I think Guardian readers have some idea about the case. It's readers of the New York Times that might be helped by hearing your comments. But the New York Times has been so very busy on so many other things. Certainly, they're some panty sniffing they're prepared to splash on the front page any day now and pass it off as journalism, right?

There's not a damn thing wrong with Bill Keller's statements. And I'll applaud them . . . when they appear in the New York Times. Instead, it's as though Nouri attacked Guardian at school and Billy stood by and didn't nothing but later that day Billy ran over to Guardian's house and said, "Oh man, that was so wrong. I'm so mad. Man, I could just kick Nouri's ass." Brave statements become less brave when they're not made where it matters.

What the press tried to ignore, groups we spoke to about Iraq after the Tuesday verdict got. They got it instantly. They got that it was about press freedom. They got that it was about Iraq. They understood that a messages were being sent globally. They grasped that one message was that Nouri could get away with what ever he wanted and that he would be emboldened as a result. They also grasped that a message was sent to the Iraqi people to let them know that they were once again on their own and that the world press would look the other way as they did so often under Saddam. Those pulling a blank on what I'm referring to can jog their memories by reading Eason's now infamous NYT column where he whined for forgiveness for CNN's efforts at covering for Saddam in order to have continued access to Iraq.
This is not a minor issue but outside of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Chris Floyd and one or two others, find anyone commenting on it outside of the Guardian. Imagine what it must be like to be the average Iraqi right now. Following the start of the illegal war, you might have had some internet access and some access to satellite TV and you could see the press get lively (too lively for Paul Bremer who launched an attack on Falluja largely because he didn't like a cartoon -- no, it wasn't of his butt, the newspaper wasn't a broadsheet). And now you've seen the US install exile puppet Nouri al-Maliki. And you've seen him crack down on the internet and satellite channels. You've seen him run Al Jazeera out of the country. Now you're seeing him go after a Western outlet (the Guardian) and trash the work of Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. And you look around to see that world press you hear so much of. That brave, strong, independent, call out the tyranny where ever it is press. And you see silence. From the East to the West, you see silence.

And slowly it sinks in that today's thug is going to get away with the same things the previous one did because your life isn't very important on the world stage. And let's get real damn honest, that's why Iraqis suffered in silence all those years. They suffered in silence because they were less important -- to the world press -- than their leader. They suffered because the press wanted to curry favor with Saddam. And now the same world press is sending the message -- with few exceptions (count McClatchy now as one exception) -- that they will cover for Nouri because freedoms and the people of Iraq are unimportant.
That is the message being sent and you better believe that is the message being received.
Amy Goodman couldn't give us that today or yesterday or the day before. In fact, Goody missed Iraq a lot this week but Ava and I will tackle that at Third on Sunday. Mad Maddy Rothschild likes to pretend he gives a damn about the free press (in 2008, he liked to pretend he was a Democrat, this year he finally outed himself publicly as a Socialist so maybe in 2010 he'll reveal that he really doesn't give a damn about the press?). But for all of his bluster, Mad Maddy didn't have time to defend the Guardian. And then there's The Nation. Did John Nichols losing his daily paper mean that he lost interest in the press? Apparently because he's tossing more sop out about Sarah Palin. But then John Nichols HATES women. Is there any woman he hasn't attacked this decade? This is the man, please remember, who attacked Barbra Streisand, BARBRA STREISAND, for the Iraq War. That was Barbra's fault. Now not in the mind of any sane person, but as you read his attack on Barbra, you knew you weren't dealing with a sane person. (The basic 'logic' of his argument was that Barbra donated her money -- HER money -- as she saw fit to Democratic politicians and not as John Nichols felt she should donate HER money. Therefore, Barbra was responsible for the Iraq War.) At some point, Panhandle Media's going to have to have to start offering group therapy for all these misogynists but in the meantime, we all suffer because they can't address what really matters. Another swipe at Palin or advocating a free press? Nichols goes with another slam at Palin.

The topic wasn't discussed on the second hour of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show today, but guest host Susan Page and panelists Karen DeYoung (Washington Post), Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) and David E. Sanger (New York Times) did discuss other Iraq issues.

Susan Page: Roy Gutman, I know that you were reporting from Iraq last month. This week we hear that Iraq's Parliament finally has approved a law for its election in January. There had been a kind of stalemate before that.

Roy Gutman: Well there had been and it was a very damaging stalemate. If they hadn't approved the law by this point then you begin to have to predict the country going downhill rather quickly. Uhm, had they approved it a month ago, you could have said Iraq is almost heading towards a normalcy despite all of the violence. This kind of muddled middle that took a long time to decide actually is nevertheless huge progress. This election, uh, is in a way is going to create a new Parliament. There will be what they call open lists -- every parliamentarian or every person running for a seat uh will be named before the elections so it's possible for people to find out who they are and rather they have dual citizenship. You know I heard while I was there that as many as 70% of the Iraqi -- of the current Iraqi Parliament has dual citizenship. Many of them Iranian-Iraqi dual citizenship. So that-that part will end and it looks like -- they have an independent election commission, they run elections that I think, in comparison with Afghanistan, certainly in comparison with Iran, are going to look good, very clean. It's possible that this election could make a real big difference.

Susan Page: Karen, this week we found out that top executives at Blackwater, the private military company, okayed bribes for Iraqi officials. Why were they going to bribe them?

Karen DeYoung: This was in connection to the late 2007 attacks in Baghdad for which I believe five Blackwater employees who were working for the State Department have been charged. 17 Iraqis were killed. At a time when it was not clear which way the Iraq government was going to go in terms of prosecuting them, preventing them from leaving the country. This was reportedly Blackwater's attempt to influence those decisions and also the decision whether Blackwater whose-whose income is derived from -- has been derived from -- huge contracts in Iraq would be continued to allow -- be allowed to work there.

Susan Page: Alright. Yes, Roy?

Roy Gutman: One of the -- one of the most incredible things about the American war in Iraq is that we relied on outside contractors to the extent that we did. I heard the figure while I was there of -- from American military -- that there was as many as 170,000 contractors, maybe even more than that, to 140,000 troops. I think that -- obviously it drove up the cost -- but it was the idea of outsourcing the war obviously to people like Blackwater to do all the functions that would normally be carried out by the military. It's a hell of a way to run a war. It's -- maybe it's the modern way of war but I think that the Bush administration in a way into thinking that it was only 140,000, only 160,000, in fact the numbers were far, far higher.

Karen DeYoung: I-I think that's true and the bulk of the contractors certainly work for the Defense Department. [Clears throat.] Excuse me. The bulk of the controversy has been over-over personal security contractors working for the State Department and that's what -- that's what Blackwater was doing. This is a problem as policy becomes a sort of civil-military hybrid where we're trying to do reconstruction in a war zone, we're trying to boost the civilian components of our efforts in places like-like Iraq and in Afghanistan. And now the question is always: Who is going to protect these people? Is this the proper role for the military, is this something that we want soldiers to do? The State Department doesn't want soldiers to do it and so you're going to have this problem increasingly going on.

Susan Page: Do private military contractors continue to play as big a role during the Obama administration as they did during the Bush administration, David?

David E. Sanger: Well certainly as the war has moved to Afghanistan and as our attention is focused to Afghanistan -- we still have more troops in Iraq today than we have in Afghanistan -- something you could lose sight of --
Karen DeYoung: Twice as many.

David E. Sanger: -- picking up -- picking up the newspaper. Yeah. That may not be true six months from now but it certainly is true now. Uh, I don't believe that there are as many contractors at work in the Afghan theater. But it's a very different kind of situation. The exception to this, again, is the personal security forces including around the embassies.

Roy Gutman: But you know when you enter the American Embassy in Baghdad, you get first questioned by Peruvians who are contractors. I-I think the traditional role of the marines as being the guard for embassies is actually a good one. And I think the idea of contracting that out, however necessary it was during the war because there simply weren't enough troops of any force to do it -- is a real question. I don't see -- and the State Department didn't master having these private contractors. They-they lost control of them again and again and again. There not able to manage them, frankly. And, uh, the whole embassy. You go to this embassy, it's an immense thing really. It was built kind of for a pro-counsel's role. And you have to ask: 'Why did we do this in the middle of the war?'

Susan Page: Roy, Roy, I don't understand. So this security at the US Embassy in Baghdad is Peruvian?

Roy Gutman: The first line.

Karen DeYoung: The outer parameter.

Roy Gutman: The outer parameter.

Susan Page: And who's employing the Peruvians to provide the security?

Roy Gutman: Uh, I don't know. Maybe it's Triple Canopy. I forget the name of the contractor.

Susan Page: But it's a contractor working for the US government?

Roy Gutman: Oh yeah.
Susan Page: Huh. Alright. That surprises me.

Roy Gutman: In fact, going into -- into what is now the International Zone, the former Green Zone, you get queried by Ugandans, Uruguayans, Peruvians are there. It's-it's like a small United Nations. Most of them being ill paid. And go to any of the bases, the American bases, the first lines and the second lines of-of checkpoints are all run by non-Americans.

Afghanistan is not our focus ("Iraq snapshot") but since it was mentioned above, we'll note that the Democratic Policy Committee (Democratic members of the Senate and Senator Byron Dorgan chairs the committee) has released a new report on Afghanistan "Our Best Chance for Success in Afghanistan: Getting the Strategy Right First."

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