The President Speaks…

On Aug. 29, the government attempted some damage-control. (It is trendy to use the term "spin" but "spin" fails to differentiate between boasting 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 a week earlier but now he wanted to let the American people know that he cared. He shared with us his 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, p.1. Our emphasis.)

Maybe he shouldn't have spoken

Is there something 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 it was a well-kept secret. Or at least that was the government's position after the plant was blown up.

Clinton claims he spent the night sleepless for 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 made commercial products only?

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 Clinton worry that a worker would 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 have to have elaborate safety and security precautions to prevent theft or injury - how could any such person possibly believe he or she wasn't working in a weapons plant? Does Clinton think Sudanese workers are on drugs? Or does he just think we Americans are too dense to remember what our 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 did make commercial products.

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 fiction created with regard for effect.

The article in which the Clinton statement appears is called "Flaws in the US account." Nice title but why didn't the Times point out the flaws in the US account? All they had to do was re-read their own newspaper from the day they reported the bombing and they'd see Clinton's night-of-torment story made no sense. Isn't anybody thinking at the NY Times ? Or are they thinking of the best way to sell US foreign policy?

If You Would Know The Real Attitudes of the Mighty, Read Their Words

Bill Clinton is a salesman par excellence in a nation that exalts selling. 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.

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 Uncle Jim."

What do we know about this nobody, object of the President’s concern? 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 consider "may have a life" a bit harsh, but then, after all, he or she "might be 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 headline:

U.S. CRUISE MISSILES STRIKE SUDAN AND AFGHAN TARGETS TIED TO TERRORIST NETWORK.

Most of us never heard of Osama bin Ladin before 8/21 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 justified swift, strong action.

And 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, p. a12. My emphasis)

This theme - that there is a terrorist organization which links the terrorist camp in Afghanistan with a terrorist factory in Sudan - is repeated throughout the August 21st NY Times.

The Afghan "training camp" is of course Clinton's strong suit. A "training camp" is a place where terrorists prepare for war; a "training camp" is fair game. Factories, on the other hand, are a problem. Americans are squeamish about bombing factories and burning the skin off the workers. The trick is: link the camp to the factory.

Here's the argument: terrorists, financed by the rich Osama bin Ladin, mastermind of the Embassy bombings, built a terrorist training camp complex in Afghanistan. The U.S., arch-enemy of terror, destroyed this complex and a bin Ladin factory in Sudan as well. The message is: Terrorists will be sought out and destroyed. The U.S. is on the job.

But what if the training camp was falsely portrayed? What if it had been built by the U.S.A.? What if bin Ladin's boys are CIA hired 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 be a profound betrayal of trust?

But that was then, this is now

The camp 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, 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.

The August 24th article quoted above unwittingly betrays the method by which this amazing fact has been justified. When the U.S. openly supported bin Ladin and friends, they were Labeled "resistance fighters" so they were ok. Now they have been re-Labeled "terrorists" and are thus 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 anyone or anything the U.S. government accuses of being linked to these people, can be bombed. No need for UN discussion, no need to offer any proof, no need for nothing: the U.S. is covert investigator, judge, jury and executioner, all in self-defense against "terrorism."

Will bin Laden have his Label changed back to "resistance fighter" when the U.S. government once more requires his services?

It's the Money, Stupid

But is The Emperor's Clothes 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 them a little support against a common (Russian) foe?

Since the U.S. side of the relationship with bin Laden and friends was handled by the 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. The money was handled by the CIA and Saudi intelligence agents. The real figure could be twice as high or higher. The sky's the limit...

Mme. Albright Reflects on Terror

Speaking in Kenya on Aug. 18, 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 emphasis)

The Times reports that Bin Laden has 250 million dollars and has used that money to build a terrorist network.

Meanwhile the U.S. spent more than 6 billion dollars - and that’s just in Afghanistan. Consider again Ms. Albright's statement:

"[These]activities are inimical to those of [sic!] civilized people in the world."

Don’t these words boomerang? 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 catastrophe for Afghanistan which the terrorists have turned into a house of horrors?

And if a worldwide terrorist organization has been created by the people whom the U.S. and Saudi Arabia paid and trained during the Afghan war, aren't the US and Saudi Arabia responsible?

Who is the greater terrorist? The person that pulls the trigger? Or the superpower that arms him, trains him, pays him and builds him the finest state-of-the-art training camp with plenty of room for "terrorists from all over the world?"

The U.S. government claims it had a good reason for bankrolling the Afghan terrorists, i.e., stopping the Russians. Stopping them from what? The government in Afghanistan was pro-Russian before the Russians invaded. Why did the U.S. have to get involved? Were the Russians going to use Afghanistan as a base for invading China? India? Iran? Sure they were, and I'm Teddy Roosevelt. You can be Bugs Bunny, but only if you're good.

And anyway, don't all terrorists do things for good (by their standards) reasons? Did you ever hear anybody say they blew something up for a bad reason?

According to the Times, bin Laden et al were CIA employees, given the best training, arms, facilities, and lots of cash for many years. Now they are supposed to be deadly enemies of the U.S.

Should we believe it? Remember, during an earlier period, our leaders swore that bin Laden and friends were good guys. "Resistance fighters." Wasn't that a lie? If the government lied about them then, why wouldn't it lie about them now?

Let's do a little imagining. Let's imagine that these characters are still CIA employees. Part of yet another crazy CIA plan. Could the attack on bin Laden be intended to establish his 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 mass movements which might harm U.S. business interests.

Or is bin Laden's new assignment perhaps to be a bogey-man, who can be conveniently linked to any government the U.S. wants to attack?

Does this all sound crazy? Is it any crazier than the admitted fact that the U.S. gave these guys more than $6 billion in the first place?

Just think. They could have cured cancer.

Techniques #4 and 5. Suggestions and Omissions.

Labels such as "resistance fighter" and "terrorist" are heavy weapons. They force a bias on our perception. By way of 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 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.

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 don’t suffer.

Calling the Sudanese factory a "target" Suggests an inanimate enemy: buildings, machines, chemicals. Not 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 NY Times of anyone being injured in the Sudan bombing. That single mention of injury is p.A13, paragraph 19. How many people are likely to see it? One in a thousand?

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)

Why wasn't this on page one? Isn't this another example of Bias by Position?

The fact that the Times could report on rescue efforts indicates it had sources on the spot. Why couldn't a thorough report have been written?

What would we say if Sudan bombed a U.S. factory and a Sudanese newspaper hid the fact that people had been critically injured?

We’d say: "That’s not a newspaper. It’s a propaganda organ."

Does The Sudan Bombing Make the U.S. A Rogue State?

Here’s a thought-provoking letter that appeared in the 8/27 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)

In conclusion: A Revelation

The August 31st 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 indicating that Bagdhad was behind the (nonexistent) nerve gas production at the pill factory, this story was dropped after August 26th. Mr. Eisenberg lingers 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

these rumors, these half truths, these completely one-sided contrivances of hype and false history, and they stick. They stick. After all, we are not studying the newspaper 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 Ladin

No, no, forget that damned bin Laden. It was Iraq. Iraq was behind the whole damn thing.

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 burned and killed a lot of people and lied about why.

And it committed these crimes in our name.

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