Remember Fallujah? It’s the Iraqi city of 300,000 that we had
to destroy in order to save back in April of 2004. Over 30 Americans died and
over 400 American troops were wounded and airlifted away. And at least 1,200
Iraqis were killed. A Red Cross official reported that American forces used
cluster bombs and chemical phosphorous weapons inside the city. The target of
the U.S. assault, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, along with up to 80 percent of his fighters,
managed to slip out of town, leaving the Fallujans to catch the brunt of the
American attack. In the end, the city was leveled.
The official Bush administration line, however, was that the assault was a
raid to “liberate” the city and free its people. American corporate
media pundits celebrated the destruction, explaining that the Fallujah operation
would set a new tempo for the Iraq war by pacifying the resistance. In the end,
however, the operation didn’t pacify the resistance. To the contrary,
it exposed us as a rogue outlaw state, executing one of the worst attacks on
a civilian population target since Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds. And for
many in the region, it justified the resistance—with recent polls showing
increasing numbers of Iraqis supporting violence as a means to oust the occupation
If the Bush administration had its way, the whole criminal siege of
Fallujah, with its depraved indifference to human life, would have gone unnoticed.
The corporate media’s Pentagon-spun propaganda stories about liberation
would have gone unchallenged by any unseemly intrusions of reality. Toward that
end, the Pentagon declared Fallujah a no-reporting zone, barring all un-embedded
journalists from the city. In short, the Pentagon hoped to control all images
coming out of the massacre. And they would have pulled it off, had it not been
for one independent freelance journalist from Alaska, Dahr Jamail, and an Al
Jazeera TV crew.
At the height of the siege, the Al Jazeera crew did what journalists have an
ethical obligation to do—broadcast images of the horror to television
audiences around the world. They did this, they claim, at great peril to their
own lives. One night, they reported that U.S. tanks targeted the fleeing TV
crew on two occasions, causing them to comment that “The U.S. wants us
out of Fallujah, but we will stay.” The U.S. responded by bombing the
building where the TV crew had slept earlier, killing their host. At one point,
whenever the TV crew would attempt to broadcast, U.S. jets would target their
signal, even though it was unlike any of the rudimentary communication devices
employed by the harried resistance fighters.
Al Jazeera critics wrote off the network’s complaints as sensationalism.
By the time the U.S. attacked Fallujah, however, there was already a growing
body of damning evidence indicating that the Pentagon was in fact targeting
the last remaining unembedded TV network with an effective on-the-ground operation
in Iraq. U.S. forces, one year earlier, bombed Al Jazeera’s Baghdad offices,
killing reporter Tareq Ayoub, after the network naively gave their GPS coordinates
to the Pentagon in order to prevent an accidental attack. A few days earlier,
U.S. forces bombed a hotel in Basra that was used exclusively by Al Jazeera.
American forces also seized several Al Jazeera reporters, imprisoning them in
now infamous gulags including Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, where they claim they
were tortured. Two years earlier we bombed Al Jazeera’s Afghanistan studios
Throughout this period of allegedly killing and torturing journalists, the
Pentagon has always maintained a stance of plausible deniability. The bombings
were accidental. Given the massive civilian carnage in Iraq and the now legendary
stupidity of our alleged “smart bombs,” this was plausible—though
highly unlikely and embarrassing nonetheless on a whole bunch of other fronts.
And the arrests? Well, you know. Shit happens.
We now know, however, that a lot more shit almost happened. Last month, Britain’s
Daily Mirror reported that George W. Bush, during the siege of Fallujah, approached
British Prime Minister Tony Blair with a plan to silence Al Jazeera once and
for all. Having failed to kill their crew on the ground in Fallujah, Bush supposedly
wanted to put out a hit on the whole damned network, in effect going to war
against Qatar, by bombing Al Jazeera’s global headquarters in Doha, Qatar’s
capitol. Did I mention that Qatar is a strategic ally of the U.S. and the Bush
administration and is a partner in the so-called “War on Terror?”
I know George W. never claimed to be a whiz at foreign relations, but this one
would have been a mega-boner. Luckily, Tony Blair seemed to have talked George
out of it.
Bush, for his part, is denying the report, and the British Attorney General,
citing his country’s Official Secrets Act, oxymoronically declared what
has got to be this month’s most talked about memo, an official secret.
He’s now threatening to prosecute any journalist that publishes the memo—and
has already levied charges against the officials who leaked the story to The
Mirror. Ironically, these whistleblowers may be the only people prosecuted in
the whole snuff Al Jazeera affair.
Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, the dung weevils are lining up to defend
Bush’s alleged desire to openly bomb a media organization into oblivion
for the crime of being a media organization. Patricia Williams of The Nation
reports that Frank Gaffney, the former Reagan-era Secretary of Defense for International
Security Policy and current president of the neo-conservative Center for Security
Policy, has been making the rounds on the wonk circuit, recently appearing on
the BBC to explain that it was appropriate to talk about “neutralizing”
Al Jazeera. Williams reports that Gaffney, writing for Fox News’ website,
argued that Al Jazeera must be taken off the air “one way or another,”
and that it was “imperative that enemy media be taken down.” Gaffney
implored his readers to remember Bush’s invective that “you are
either with us or with the terrorists.”
Put simply, media that reports on the horrific and embarrassing realities associated
with a myriad of Bush administration policies, are, in effect, “with the
terrorists,” since they obviously aren’t in line with the Bush administration’s
propaganda campaign. Most upsetting is the fact that Gaffney’s vituperation
against a free press was promulgated by Fox News—a self-described “news”
organization that should have been more outraged than acquiescent to this call
for silencing embarrassing news by murdering journalists.
In the Bush lexicon, speaking unpleasant truths means being “with the
terrorists.” It is also the responsibility of a free press. Avoiding the
threat of such censure by the Bush junta means abdicating one’s responsibility
as a journalist. Yet, this sort of behavior—the avoidance of reporting
on disturbing realities—is what passes for journalism today in the United
Seymour Hersh reported in Monday’s edition of The New Yorker that U.S.
bombing raids are increasing in Iraq. Put simply, we “liberated”
them, now we’re bombing the hell out of them. Hersh points out that despite
this deadly escalation, there is no significant discussion of the growing air
war. Media critic Norman Solomon, writing a follow-up to Hersh’s piece
for Truthout.org, conducted a database search and found out that neither The
New York Times nor The Washington Post even printed the phrase “air war”
so much as one time so far in 2005.
Solomon speculates that as the U.S. withdraws ground forces from Iraq, it will
replace their efforts with the bloodier but safer (for American forces) specter
of bombing campaigns. The U.S. media, so far, has ignored the story and dozens
of similar ones. But why should this be surprising? You’d think they’d
report on the Bush administration’s desires to murder journalists. For
journalists, maybe this story would strike close to home. But then, reporting
on it wouldn’t be “with us,” as Bush so eloquently puts it.
And if you’re not with us, well, you’re with the terrorists, and
indefinite detention, and all that nasty stuff. On the other hand, if you are
“with us,” you’re not a journalist—you’re just
a stenographer. But you’re alive, sort of….